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Bertram Thomas’s postmortem took place shortly after 9am on the morning of December the 7th. Performing the postmortem was Dr. Robert Stewart, a forensic pathologist who often performed such duties for Clark County. It is not unusual in the US for the County Coroner to not perform autopsies—with there being considerably more counties than forensic pathologists in the States.
During trial, Dr. Stewart testified to observing two injuries to Thomas’s head. The first, a close-contact injury, was caused by a small projectile—believed to be a .22 calibre bullet—penetrating Thomas’s skull from the rear, at a downward angle of approximately 10 degrees. The second injury—a contusion—was found on the left-hand-side of Thomas’s skull. Dr. Stewart was unable to come to a conclusion as to whether this second injury occurred prior to, or after that of the first. What Dr. Stewart was able to verify however, was that the injury was of a blunt force trauma in nature.
Thomas was wearing a baseball hat when he was discovered, with a small hole found in the hat. Dr. Stewart was able to come to the conclusion that Thomas had been shot at close range due to gun shot residue being located on both Thomas’s scalp and his hat.
Dr. Stewart indicated that a triangular chip in Thomas’s skull could have been caused by the pressure created due to the projectile entering. Although Stewart was able to confirm that the second injury was of blunt-force in nature, he wasn’t able to determine whether this was caused by a blunt object coming into contact with Thomas’s head, or Thomas’s head coming into contact with the floor—perhaps after entry by the projectile. Interestingly the chip in Thomas’s skull was located within the area of the secondary contusion area, indicating the possibility that the triangular chip in the skull was related to the second injury found.
Dr. Stewart not being able to determine the cause of the second injury found was understandable—blunt force-trauma of some kind, was as far as he was prepared to offer. However, while conducting Thomas’s postmortem, Stewart didn’t form an opinion as to when Thomas died—not even to the nearest day.
Considering Thomas was found less than 20 hours before his postmortem took place, and Springfield police had received reports from neighbours having seen Thomas as late as the 3rd, or 4th on December, why would this be the case?
During Stewart’s sworn testimony at trial, the reason for this became apparent. He wasn’t asked to.
With an investigation less than 1-day-old, Springfield Police appeared to be disinterested in knowing when Bertram Thomas had died.
Time of death is not a precise science, and due to this, forensic pathologists formulate an estimated time of death. While there is no possible way to determine the exact time—down to a specific hour—an experienced pathologist—of which Dr. Stewart was—would have been able to determine TOD down to a range of hours. Reasons for establishing a TOD are manifold, with an important reason being the ability to narrow down potential suspect’s alibis. One possible reason for Springfield Police not wanting a TOD was because they wanted a broader time-frame to work with. One thing is for certain though. A good investigation attempts to narrow down the parameters by which a crime is committed, not broaden them.
So far in the case of Bertram Thomas, the crime-scene had not been processed—apart from 12 items being removed from the scene. There had been no attempt to obtain fingerprints from bedrooms that appeared to have been disturbed. No luminol testing had been performed in the room where it is evident that a man had been shot, and following this, no TOD had been asked to be formulated. Whether this was deliberate, or due to incompetence is hard to prove, yet when we look at Thomas’s death certificate, produced on the 16th of December, not only had TOD been established to the exact day, it had also been cited to the approximate nearest hour.
TOD had now been established for Thomas as December. 3rd, at approximately 9pm. Not by Dr. Stewart though, but by Dr. Dirk Wood. Bertram Thomas’s funeral was on December. 12th. Wood signed Thomas’s Certificate-Of-Death on December. 16th, and had no way of knowing when Thomas died to the nearest day, let alone an approximate hour. Did Springfield Police want to be able to establish their own TOD, and with that, their own narrative and timeline? One thing is apparent, they weren’t interested in the forensic pathologist, Dr. Stewart’s timeline.
According to the crime-scene report by Sgt. Haytas, once Cause-of-Death had been established, the CSU returned to Thomas’s residence.
On information provided by investigators, a ceramic frog—which Thomas supposedly kept cash in—was found, and contained an empty $ money clip and 2 keys. The ceramic frog, along with letters from a correctional institute in Orient, OH were taken from the Southeast bedroom—the room with the drawers found open in the first crime-scene report. Also taken from the property were several colour photos of ‘younger persons,’ and 7 handwritten letters containing gang symbols and statements.
Further information provided by investigators revealed 2 items missing. A .22 calibre rifle—belonging to Thomas—was supposed to be stored in the Southwest bedroom—the room with the broken door—and a garage door opener was supposed to be stored in a cabinet in the kitchen.
During the CSU’s second visit, the scene itself was not tested for fingerprints, only items taken from the scene were processed. Even with new found knowledge of a missing gun, the broken door—with its door-nob found under the bed—was not considered for testing. Below is Officer Beedy’s testimony during trial regarding the Southwest bedroom door.
The CSU cleared Thomas’s residence at 1.50pm and according to Sgt. Graeber’s report on Dec. 7, the property was released to Thomas’s daughters. In less than 24 hours of the CSU’s initial response, Springfield Police had gathered the evidence that they felt was needed, all of which were items taken from the scene.
Graeber’s report also made mention of Thomas’s autopsy earlier that day, in which he detailed the gunshot wound to the rear of the victims head. Interestingly, not only did Graeber not mention the second injury—the contusion found at the left hand side of Thomas’s skull—he specifically stated, “Mr. Thomas had no defence wounds or any other cuts or contusions from any other trauma to the body.”
According to Graeber, Springfield Police were in the process of speaking to gang members “because of all the Latin King writing in the basement.” Of note is his mention of Juan Mendoza—Patricia Shepherd’s son—and the fact that he left for Chicago on Dec. 4th. Mendoza was wanted for questioning regarding the murder of Paris Harper, who was shot in the back of the head on Nov. 26th in what was found to be a gang related murder—Harper had Latin King Tattoos.
Detective Jeffrey Flores interviewed neighbours of Thomas on Dec. 7th and spoke with Michael Goodwin, whom Officer Hall had spoken with the previous evening. Flores’s report of Goodwin’s statement is markedly different to that of Hall’s. Flores states that Goodwin last saw Thomas between 11 and 12am on Dec. 3rd. Hall reported that Goodwin last saw Thomas at approximately 7pm through his window on Dec. 4th. What Flores’s report did state though, was that Goodwin saw Thomas’s car reverse out of his drive on the 4th. The car stopped and and the driver got out and closed the garage door. Goodwin was unable to verify that Thomas was the driver.
Whether Goodwin was confused as to the specific date of his last known sighting of Thomas is understandable. The difference between the 3rd and the 4th is only one day. However, the sighting on the 3rd would have been during daylight, and the sighting on the 4th would have been under the cover of darkness.
Flores also spoke with Mary Bray of Superior Avenue—Thomas’s car was found in a parking-lot opposite. Bray reported that her daughter had come home from watching a basketball game at her local school—South High—on the evening of Thomas’s body being discovered, and informed her that, “Bert had been killed. Further stating that he was found shot in the back of the head, and had been dead a few days.” No follow up report was provided.
The investigation that took place on Saturday, Dec. 7th hinted at possible gang involvement in Thomas’s murder, perhaps related to that of the murder of Paris Harper barely 1 week previous. After a quiet day on Sunday, Dec. 8th—only 1 report filed according to FOIA request—the investigation would take a different direction.
Dec. 9th would prove to be a pivotal day in the investigation of Bertram Thomas’s murder. Key witnesses to the crime would be arrested and give statements. These statements would evolve over time to fit a narrative as to how the crime played out. Michael Enis, Terry Portman, and Jermane Scott would all be interviewed, with one of them being charged with aggravated murder and a felonious assault indictment.
That person would be Jermane Scott.
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