Testimony reveals new details in double murder
BY DENIS J. O’MALLEY
A Susquehanna County man could face the death penalty after two counts of criminal homicide filed against him in the fatal shooting of a pair of Army veterans in Great Bend Twp. earlier this month were bound over for trial Wednesday.
Lloyd Thomas, 45, of Hallstead, allegedly shot Gilberto Alvarez, 28, once in the head on Feb. 11 and shot Joshua Rogers, 30, of New Milford, in the hand and in the abdomen in what Thomas told police was self-defense.
Alvarez had recently moved from Florida and was staying with Rogers, police said.
Testimony in a preliminary hearing Wednesday offered new details about what brought Alvarez and Rogers to the Thomas property at 144 Pine Ayre Road that afternoon and how their presence led Thomas to allegedly shoot both men dead.
As snow fell intermittently from an overcast sky over Pine Ayre Road on Feb. 11, two bursts of gunfire cut through the air shortly after noon, neighbors would later tell state police, according to a criminal complaint.
One nearby resident had seen two men leave a black Ford Mustang parked in the middle of the road and head into the woods up a steep grade toward the Thomas home minutes earlier, state Trooper Mark Keyes testified at the hearing.
After the shots, another neighbor saw Thomas running out of the woods toward his home with his two dogs alongside him and a pistol in his hand, Trooper Keyes said.
Another neighbor pulled out of his driveway and found the body of Joshua Rogers lying off the side of the road about 75 feet from the Mustang, Trooper Keyes testified.
Troopers later found Alvarez’s body with a single gunshot wound to his left temple, lying within 20 feet of the Thomas home’s front door, according to Trooper Keyes’ testimony and the complaint.
When troopers spotted him walking toward his home and arrested him soon after, Thomas had a .22-caliber rifle in one hand, a .45-caliber pistol in the other and marijuana in his pocket, Trooper Keyes said.
A second visit
As the investigation continued, troopers learned the visit to Pine Ayre Road that ended in their deaths was not the first Alvarez and Rogers had made to the neighborhood that day, Trooper Keyes testified.
About 15 minutes earlier, Rogers had arrived home with Alvarez and told his girlfriend that someone had shot his car – evidence of which was later found on the vehicle – and that he and Alvarez were going “to see who did that,” Trooper Keyes said during the hearing.
“It appears that they believed their car had been hit by gunfire,” he said.
The two returned with two of Alvarez’s weapons – a rifle found in the Mustang and a shotgun found in the woods after the incident. They parked the Mustang in the middle of Pine Ayre Road, blocking it to traffic, Trooper Keyes said.
Once they passed through the woods and reached the home, each man headed to either the front or rear door of the home, though it was not clear which man went to which door, Trooper Keyes testified.
What was clear is that Alvarez had been killed by a single gunshot wound to his left temple and was found within about 20 feet of the front door, according to testimony by Trooper Keyes and Susquehanna County Coroner Anthony Conarton.
Between where Rogers’ body was found and the Thomas home, investigators found a loaded, 12-gauge shotgun with a shell in the chamber, though it had not been fired, Trooper Keyes said.
The pistol grip on the shotgun had a bullet hole through it, Trooper Keyes said, which led investigators to conclude that Rogers was holding it when he suffered the gunshot wound to his hand, Susquehanna County District Attorney Jason Legg said after the hearing.
The shot to Rogers’ abdomen that killed him entered from behind and traveled through his body, Conarton testified.
‘He was scared’
George Lepley, the attorney representing Thomas, said his client was in his father’s home when his two dogs started barking. He walked toward an open door and saw one of the two men trying to get inside.
“He said he went into preservation mode and shot the guy,” Trooper Keyes said during his testimony. “He indicated that he was scared.”
Lepley did not know which door the encounter occurred at or which of the two victims was involved. Trooper Keyes testified that several .22-caliber bullet casings – consistent with the pistol believed to have fired the fatal shots and later found on the kitchen table – were scattered “right outside” the rear sliding glass doors.
Troopers asked Thomas during an interview after his arrest if he had exchanged words with either of the two victims and whether he had had prior encounters with them, Trooper Keyes testified.
“At that point he just said he didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Trooper Keyes said.
A capital case
After Magisterial District Judge Jodi Cordner held the two counts of criminal homicide against Mr. Thomas for court, Lepley requested that his client be granted bail.
In arguing the motion, which was ultimately denied, Legg said the case was “potentially a capital case.”
Lepley, however, dismissed that possibility in the case of Mr. Thomas, who has maintained that he acted in self-defense since his arrest.
“I really don’t think a jury would ever return a death verdict in a case like this,” he said.
Further, Lepley said the case could be among the first in the state to incorporate the “expanded castle doctrine,” which allows the use of lethal force on a person’s property beyond the confines of their home.
That said, Lepley admitted that there are still questions looming in the case.
“I don’t think anybody really knows how this shooting happened,” Lepley said.