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90-Year-old Acquitted in Rampage that Killed Three

July 5, 1990

DADE CITY, Fla. (AP) _ A 90-year-old man was a free man Wednesday after jurors acquitted him of bludgeoning to death three housemates in a retirement home rampage.

″Thank you to the jury and the judge. That’s all I want to say,″ Henry Thomas said as he left the Pasco County courthouse late Tuesday, cleared of the New Year’s Day 1989 slayings.

One of his attorneys cried as the verdict was read following five hours of jury deliberations.

″It’s a great day,″ said Thomas, who had spent the last 18 months in jail.

He was taken in his wheelchair from the courthouse to the East Pasco Detention Center and released.

Two residents died at the scene and a third, left with a fractured skull, died a month later. Three others recovered from injuries.

Defense attorneys had argued there was too much doubt that Thomas did, or even physically could have, carried out the beatings. They said three residents of the group home described the attacker as a young man.

Police arrested Thomas, his clothes spattered with blood, and said he had attacked the victims with his heavy oak cane. His cane had traces of blood and a bone fragment.

Thomas said he saw and heard intruders and fled out the front door when they began beating his roommates. He was picked up 12 hours later.

Despite his age, prosecutors portrayed Thomas as a strong, fit man, a onetime boxer who got the better of a man 70 years his junior while in a cell in May. During the jail confrontation, Thomas had an arm lock on a 20-year-old until a guard broke it up when he heard the young man call for help.

Authorities said the retired fruit picker had trouble getting along with other elderly residents in the Reflections I home that housed nine people about 45 miles northeast of Tampa. Thomas shared a 10-foot-by-9 room with two others.

They said he argued often, becoming angry over such incidents as when his things were moved by others.

Assistant Public Defender William Eble, in tears as the verdict was read, said Thomas would be reunited with his family.

Members of the Thomas family linked hands to pass through a line of reporters, continuing to refuse to talk.

Eble and Assistant Public Defender John Carballo helped Thomas stand as the verdicts were given.

As he listened to Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb issue a formal finding of innocence, Thomas lifted the index finger of his right hand in a saluting gesture to the judge. Cobb nodded in return.

The verdicts prompted emotional applause in the courtroom.

While some celebrated, Charles and Helen Tear struggled with the outcome. Helen Tear owned the home, and her father-in-law, Frank Tear Sr., was among those killed.

″I was angry at the applause,″ Mrs. Tear said. ″Obviously, this was like a party.″

The Tears testified for the prosecution and believe that Thomas committed the murders.

″I turned this over to the Lord a long time ago,″ Charles Tear said. ″If this is His will, then I accept it.″

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen had no comment on the verdict.

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