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Life sentence reduced in Pa. murder case

June 22, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On Dec. 11, 1996, Timothy Eugene Thomas was convicted in Franklin County Court of second-degree murder and later sentenced to life in prison.

On Monday, Thomas left the same courtroom with a four-to-20-year sentence for third-degree murder in the same case. He has already served more than four years in state prison.

Thomas, 28, of Chambersburg, was convicted by a jury of murder, robbery and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery in the 1993 murder of Willie Shaw, 32, of Chambersburg.

On Feb. 3 of this year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned the sentence and conviction because of an earlier plea agreement that fell apart.

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While Thomas has served more than the minimum sentence in his case, Assistant District Attorney David Rahauser said it would be up to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to decide if he should be released before serving the full 20 years.

Monday's plea agreement and sentencing had nothing to do with Thomas's jury trial, according to Rahauser. Instead, the Superior Court ruled that the local court failed to uphold the terms of a plea agreement Thomas and prosecutors reached more than two years before his trial.

"The trial court committed an abuse of discretion," in not adhering to the sentence suggested in the plea agreement, according to the ruling.

"The court does not feel in any way that it violated the plea agreement," Judge John Walker said Monday. He called the Superior Court's ruling "strange."

Walker said he intended to sentence Thomas to at least six years in prison at the time the plea bargain fell apart. Nevertheless, he accepted Thomas' plea Monday, fining him $250 and ordering him to pay $4,500 in restitution to Shaw's family.

On Aug. 23, 1994, Thomas entered a plea of no contest to third-degree murder, but was not sentenced. The agreement called for him to cooperate in the prosecution of Harold Winston Noel of Chambersburg.

A no contest plea means the defendant is not admitting guilt but is stating that he or she will offer no defense.

In exchange, the prosecution agreed "not to oppose" a sentence in the mitigated range, meaning a minimum of three to four years in prison, according to Rahauser.

Noel, 26, subsequently pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and was sentenced on Oct. 4, 1995, to 10 to 20 years in prison, according to court records.

At Thomas' Dec. 13, 1995, sentencing hearing, Walker said he would not sentence him in the mitigated range. Rahauser said that was because Walker learned in the pre-sentence report that Thomas had brought the gun used to kill Shaw.

Thomas' attorney then asked for a delay in sentencing. Court records stated Thomas withdrew his no contest plea on Feb. 21, 1996, which led to the jury trial.

Shaw was found dead in a rented car along Warm Spring Road in Hamilton Township on Jan. 31, 1993. He had been shot twice in the back of the head.

Thomas and Noel were charged by Pennsylvania State Police in the killing in January 1994, and Walker gave Thomas credit for time served since his arrest.

Police were never able to establish which man pulled the trigger.

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