A Calhoun County jury on Thursday found Tyrone Thompson guilty of two counts of capital murder in the fatal 2011 stabbing of 29-year-old Kevin Thompson.
Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones, who presided over Thompson’s nine-day trial, sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole and ordered him to pay a $120,000 fine in addition to legal fees.
To Rena Mosley, Kevin Thompson’s sister, the jury’s guilty verdict came as a huge relief. She hugged jurors as they left the courtroom after the verdict, which they had reached after nearly an hour of deliberation.
Mosley, along with other friends and family of Kevin Thompson, wore neckties in the courtroom throughout the trial. Mosley said she got the idea from an inside joke she used to share with her brother about how she dressed him. Nearly every day he worked, Mosley said, he wore a necktie.
“After we lost him, when stepping into the courtroom, it kind of felt like I was wearing my superhero’s cape,” Mosley said. “I kind of passed that along to everyone, and it’s a powerful feeling to have so many people supporting us with the neckties.”
Mosley said her mother, Frances Curry, had been the family spokesperson during the trials of Nicholas Smith and Jovon Gaston, who were also charged with capital murder. After Curry died in November 2015 at age 61, that responsibility fell to Mosley.
“It’s definitely a harder experience not doing it with my mom here,” Mosley said. “The experience of losing Kevin was completely different to us… I knew she was here with me and Kevin was here with me.”
Jones ruled in January that Thompson was ineligible for the death penalty. While Mosley felt he deserved that sentence, she said, she felt that justice was served for her brother, a Wellborn schoolteacher, and her mom.
“I still feel like we had a win,” Mosley said. “Today’s a victory.”
Tyrone Thompson, Smith and Gaston were charged in 2011 with two counts of capital murder after they kidnapped and robbed 29-year-old Kevin Thompson on April 20, 2011, before driving him to Cherokee County, stabbing him numerous times and leaving his body down an embankment on the side of U.S. 278.
Smith and Gaston have been previously convicted and sentenced to death. The state Court of Criminal Appeals in separate hearings last year ruled to overturn their sentences and have them re-sentenced.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh, one of Tyrone Thompson’s prosecutors, said it felt cathartic to finally have a resolution to all three trials after eight years.
“It was good to speak to the family and tell them at least they’ve had all three defendants heard and all three verdicts rendered,” McVeigh said. “It’s just good to see the family be able to put some closure to this.”
In their closing arguments, prosecutors argued that, regardless of whether Tyrone Thompson, Smith or Gaston stabbed Kevin Thompson, Tyrone Thompson was guilty by aiding and abetting the crime.
McVeigh argued that Tyrone Thompson, who claimed he and Kevin Thompson were childhood friends, caused his death by introducing Kevin Thompson to Smith and Gaston and got Kevin Thompson’s card numbers from the back seat of the car they stole from him.
After the three killed Kevin Thompson, McVeigh said, Tyrone Thompson had numerous opportunities to contact police, but didn’t.
Prosecutors showed jurors a photo of Kevin Thompson’s body at the crime scene, and another of him teaching at Wellborn Elementary School.
“That’s hard to look at. It ought to be,” McVeigh said of the first photo, before pointing to the second. “That’s what Kevin looked like in real life. That’s what he should look like today.”
Defense attorney Fred Lawton, in his closing arguments, told jurors that the majority of evidence in the case pointed mostly to Smith, partly to Gaston and least to Tyrone Thompson.
According to Lawton, much of the witness testimony and evidence presented was inconsequential, and none of it could prove Tyrone Thompson’s guilt.
Lawton said none of the evidence collected at Tyrone Thompson’s house was useful, while a steak knife, jeans and a show found at Smith’s house were all found to have Kevin Thompson’s blood on them.
“This is the man who had control that evening,” Lawton said.
While Tyrone Thompson was initially interviewed by police, Lawton said, he faced a “parade” of officers coming in and out, was scared and couldn’t afford a lawyer.
Based on those interviews with police, Lawton said, Tyrone Thompson was a liar and a bad friend, but he wasn’t a murderer.
Prosecutor Lynn Hammond noted that, during Tyrone Thompson’s videotaped police interviews, he lied for nearly 10 hours about his involvement with Kevin Thompson’s death, but claimed during the last 30 minutes of questioning he was threatened by Smith and Gaston.
When officers showed him photos of the scene where Kevin Thompson’s body was found, Hammond said, Tyrone Thompson didn’t show emotion.
“I didn’t know Kevin, and I could hardly look at those photos,” Hammond said. “He can look at his handiwork and not shed a tear. That’s wrong.”
Hammond asserted that hardly any DNA evidence was linked to Tyrone Thompson because he manipulated Smith and Gaston into doing his dirty work for him.
Hammond accused Tyrone Thompson of orchestrating Kevin Thompson’s death because he was the only one of the three men charged whom Kevin Thompson knew — meaning Kevin Thompson could have identified him as his assailant.
Family members, spectators and jurors wept as Hammond closed the prosecutors’ arguments prior to deliberation.
“To find him guilty of anything less than capital murder is a gift to Tyrone Thompson and a disservice to Kevin Thompson,” Hammond said.
Warren Freeman, another of Tyrone Thompson’s defense attorneys, said he was disappointed that defense attorneys were barred from discussing his client’s intellectual disability with jurors.
However, he said, defense attorneys took solace in the fact that Tyrone Thompson was ineligible for the death penalty.
Freeman said his client plans to appeal the verdict, and he expects the 35-year-old’s intellectual disability will be a major issue during the appeals process.
Going forward, Mosley said, she’s working to start another project to fund the Kevin Thompson Field Trip Fund, a nonprofit she started in her brother’s memory.
While a teacher at Wellborn Elementary School, Mosley said, Thompson started a field trip for third-graders to an aquarium. The nonprofit pays for the field trip so each child gets to go for free.
“It’s a good way to pass along his story, and how he didn’t get to live the life he should have lived,” Mosley said. “When these kids go on this field trip and they ask who Kevin Thompson is, that gives people the opportunity to tell them about him.”