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Georgia man convicted of infant killing set free, confession inadmissible

Adrian Thomas, pictured third from the right in this group photo with his legal team, was acquitted of killing his infant son in a second trial after his confession was ruled inadmissible.
Adrian Thomas, pictured third from the right in this group photo with his legal team, was acquitted of killing his infant son in a second trial after his confession was ruled inadmissible.
Courtesy of Facebook Scenes of a Crime

Twelve people on an appeals court jury have set a Georgia man free this month from prison after he was convicted in 2009 of murdering his four month old infant son in Troy, New York based upon this June 15 report from WALB in Albany.

The successful appeal verdict in June follows a failed earlier appeal effort by the defendant on Nov. 15, 2011. And it raises questions about whether an innocent man was imprisoned for the past five years, or whether a guilty man is now free on a technicality.

The story begins when the infant's mother, Wilhelmina Hicks, awakened the morning of Sept. 21, 2008 to find her prematurely-born infant "limp and unresponsive." He was rushed to Samaritan Hospital in Troy, NY., and she accompanied him.

According to online NY court records, Adrian Thomas, 32, told investigating detectives back in 2008 that "about 10 or 15 days before this incident he accidentally dropped Matthew five or six inches into his crib and Matthew hit his head 'pretty hard' and he supposed that that impact caused Matthew's brain injury."

Thomas also recalled accidentally bumping Matthew's head with his head on the evening of September 20th. And he noticed Matthew's breathing became labored, but was afraid to tell his wife what had happened.

Court records show additional details were shared by the suspect at the time of his interrogation, but the Legal Aid Society and other groups sought to show that Thomas' confession was coerced by cops who interrogated him twice (and for hours at a time). The groups hoped to get a judge to rule the written and verbal confessions would be inadmissible in his trial, and to that end they produced a documentary years later called scenes of crime to support that goal.

After conviction, Thomas' first appeal effort also sought to have his confession ruled inadmissible, especially since one of the cops involved in his interrogation led him to believe his child was still alive and that Thomas could help doctors save the infant by telling his interrogators exactly what he did to cause the health complication. The child was already dead, but Thomas did not know it, so he gave detectives a statement as a result.

Originally sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, the first subsequent request for an appeal by the defendant was ruled against, with the lower court upholding the original verdict in the case and finding no legitimate reason to order a new trial. But the higher NY court heard his appeal and now a jury of his peers have acquitted him of all the charges in the death of his infant twin son.

But the acquittal is not an affirmation of his innocence, necessarily, according to the online court records, which, instead, highlight the fact that sometimes a guilty person goes free in order to make sure the judicial system maintains its integrity when it comes to investigation, prosecution and sentencing in criminal cases:

The New York Court of Appeals wrote:

It has long been established that what the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids is a coerced confession, regardless of whether it is likely to be true." And the Court cited Rogers v. Richmond (365 US 534 [1961] [Frankfurter, J.]) to further explain their decision, pointing to where Rogers v. Richmond states "Our decisions under that Amendment have made clear that convictions following the admission into evidence of confessions which are involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological, cannot stand. This is so not because such confessions are unlikely to be true, but because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law...".

With his written and verbal confession ruled inadmissible due to police interrogation techniques used on him in 2008, the second trial jury were left with nothing but complicated medical expert testimony from the prosecution and the defense to help them determine innocence or guilt in the matter.

Added to the controversy over whether Adrian Thomas really did willfully cause the death of his twin infant son is a witness statement given to the court during Thomas' last trial. That witness was a jail house snitch named William Terry, age 38.

According to the June 2, 2014 Troy Record news report, Terry told the jurors in Thomas' second trial that the defendant bragged to him that he would win the case in the end because the justice system had listed the wrong twin son's name on the charging documents.

Terry also told the court that Thomas had said "he wasn't concerned (about his dead child's loss) because he had another son to replace the one he lost." The career criminal also testified that the defendant Adrian Thomas admitted to him that he repeatedly threw his son Matthew on the bed in the home in order to make him stop crying, after getting into an argument with his wife, before the infant fell on the floor and finally stopped crying.

News 10's WALB reported on Father's Day that Adrian Thomas had returned to his hometown of Georgia since his acquittal and release from prison. And this is what he has to say now about his case:

12 jurors, they found me not guilty this past Thursday and from there I was released on Thursday evening. My whole message is to have faith and hold on to God's unchanging plan and his word," Thomas told a church congregation in Douglas.

In a Scenes of a Crime Facebook post from June 1, it was stated that the acquitted Georgia man's wife Wilhelmina Hicks is now his ex-wife, and she testified for the prosecution against him in the second trial, telling the jury that "there was stress in the home, and that Thomas was unhappy about her giving birth to twins Matthew and Malachai in 2008." Thomas' step-daughter India Hicks also testified, "shouting sexually laced obscenities at Adrian Thomas, and ran from court crying," the Facebook post stated.

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