Son of Redmond 5 Barbara Thomas victim testifies at hearing

Judge is evaluating whether defendant is ineligible for a life sentence without possibility of parole

By Claire Withycombe
The Bulletin

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Testimony has begun in a lengthy hearing that precedes the re-sentencing of the Redmond Five’s Justin Link.

It’s been nearly 15 years since he and a group of friends conspired to kill Barbara Thomas at her home on the Old Bend-Redmond Highway.

Link, who was 17 at the time, and four other teens became known as the “Redmond Five” in the aftermath of the March 26, 2001, fatal shooting; after plotting ways to kill her and beating her over the head with wine bottles, 16-year-old Seth Koch shot her with a rifle.

Since his initial convictions and sentencing, Link’s case has remained active in the state’s appellate courts; it is back in Deschutes County for the sentencing phase of a trial after the Oregon Court of Appeals sent it back to the county for a resentencing phase in 2013.

His convictions are no longer at issue. Link awaits resentencing on six criminal charges in connection with the 2001 incident, including one count of aggravated murder, court records show.

Once the pretrial hearing before Deschutes County Circuit presiding Judge Alta Brady has concluded, a jury will determine Link’s sentence after a separate proceeding.

In the pretrial hearing, Brady is evaluating whether Link is ineligible for a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The state has the burden of showing Link is within a narrow class of juvenile offenders who are “irreparably corrupt,” or unable to be rehabilitated.

After brief opening statements from prosecutors and Link’s defense attorneys, three people testified Tuesday: two police officers and a co-conspirator, Thomas’ son, Adam Thomas, who was the eldest of the group at 18.
The two officers gave summaries of the gruesome scene they found upon responding to the location of the killing.

Timothy Hernandez, who was a Deschutes County sheriff’s deputy at the time and is now a patrol sergeant at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde police department, was first to testify. Hernandez was stationed in Terrebonne and in the days preceding the murder had taken reports that some of the teens were missing. He was among the first to respond to the scene, breaking down the home’s door. The teens, who were planning to go to Canada, had fled.
Another officer, Sgt. Mike Johnston, spotted Thomas’ body lying in a pool of blood.

Next, Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills, then a detective sergeant at the sheriff’s office, testified about what he and his agency found at the scene, walking attorneys through a silent, flashlight-lit video and photos he took of the home and its exterior during the agency’s initial response.

Adam Thomas, now 33, finished up the day’s testimony, fielding questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys for nearly two hours about the weeks leading up to his mother’s death. He recounted how the group exchanged ideas about how to kill Thomas — electrocution, drowning, injecting her with bleach — once doing so was suggested as a way to cover up using her car to get to Canada. They’d initially proposed knocking her out because she wasn’t likely to let them take the car, Thomas said.

Thomas also testified about his friendship with Link and denied Link was the leader of the group of teens, saying he took responsibility for his role in his mother’s death. He described getting to know Link, whom he admired, he said, because Link was not attending school and was free from the constraints and rules of parents. He said a friend had warned him that Link was a “bad influence.”

Four sheriff’s deputies, enlisted to provide security, looked on as Thomas testified. Both Thomas and Link were brought in for the hearing from the Deschutes County jail.

Thomas is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at the Oregon State Penitentiary; after he was denied post-conviction relief in 2010, he said he has accepted, to some degree, his sentence. He expressed reluctance to testify but was subpoenaed by the state. Link has been serving his sentence at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton.

The pretrial hearing is scheduled to continue nine more days.


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