Jury gives man life sentence for murder of Huntington man

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - A jury has given a man a life sentence for the brutal stabbing death of a Huntington man.

The punishment came at 5:40 p.m. Friday, just less than four hours after the same jury found Thomas Fielder, 40, guilty of murder.

Fielder must also pay a $10,000 fine.

It's the first murder conviction handed down by a jury in two years.

"The jury in this week-long trial were patient, attentive and I am grateful for their service. The evidence in this case was lengthy and some of it, difficult to sit through because of the brutality of the murder. I think the verdict is appropariate," stated prosecutor Katrina Carswell.

Defratus' family thanked Carswell, and everyone involved in bringing their family some closure.

"It brings us peace of mind that the killer is behind bars," said Gary's brother, Steven DeFratus.

For Fielder's friends and family, it's a heartbreaking loss.

"Oh God it hurts," Fielder's friend Patricia Clutter said in an on-camera interview. "It hurt bad, to know, oh Jesus, it hurts. It hurts real bad."

Fielder was arrested in Quitman, Texas in Wood County for killing Gary Lynn Defratus, 47, of Huntington in December 2009. Defratus' mother discovered her son's gruesome body under her carport 36 hours after his death.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Katrina Carswell said this was a case of a man who came to visit a friend, then ran errands, smoked some meth, then left his wife with people she didn't know before deciding to settle the score with Defratus, despite being warned not to go over there.

She said Fielder asked people to lie for him after he killed Defratus by asking a good friend to say something that did not happen, and calling another friend and asking him to lie. Carswell went on to say Fielder at first denied any recollection of stabbing Defratus, before admitting to the altercation with him.

Carswell said Fielder's conduct should also be considered, as he rushed out of Defratus' house in socked feet before picking up his wife and rushing out of the county, even throwing his clothes out of the car as they drove off.

"There is no evidence that anyone else was there that night," Carswell said. "Testimony shows it took Gary Defratus about a minute to die after he left the house. There is no way anyone else could have gone over there in that time to kill him."

Carswell said the jury must consider what a reasonable person would do.

"A reasonable person, if they were attacked, would have called the police or an ambulance," she said.

"Self-defense just isn't going to fly in this case," she said. "Here's a guy who felt he had to protect his woman. He was more upset about it than she was. He didn't leave when he could. He didn't stop fighting. Then he fled."

"This case has proven he murdered him, and it was not self-defense," Carswell concluded.

"I would say you don't approve of dope," said Jerry Whiteker, Fielder's attorney. "But some in this country use it. But this man is not on trial for using dope. He is not on trial for using bad judgment or reaching out to his friends inappropriately. He's not on trial for stabbing the deceased individual."

Whiteker explained that Defratus was high on meth, and felt 10-feet tall. He said Fielder went back to Defratus' house to confront him about asking Fielder's wife to pop his back.

"I think it's out of line to ask another man's wife to pop his back," he said.

"Maybe he went over there to clear the air," he said. "Or yell at him because he's bigger than him, or punch him in the kisser. But with meth, Gary Defratus wasn't afraid. He was to the point that nobody should've been around him. And what he walked into is what we have today."
"I think self-defense is in order," Whiteker concluded.

"I don't know if he drove over there, intending to butcher him," Carswell said in her rebuttal. "But when he got there, I think he came to that conclusion."

Carswell described to the jury what she believed happened, saying Defratus was attacked and did not have a chance to defend himself, as forensic evidence showed Defratus was stabbed while facing the kitchen sink.

"This is not self-defense," she said. "This is rage."

The punishment phase of the trial began with the state calling Jeremy Welch, 29, to testify. Welch walked to the witness in handcuffs. Welch is an inmate in the Angelina County Jail. He was in the same cell with Fielder one night.

Welch said Fielder told his cell mates, "He did the world a favor." He said Fielder went on to say "They couldn't charge him with murder because they couldn't find the murder weapon."

The defense read off a lengthy list of Welch's prior convictions.

Welch said he had been promised nothing in return for his testimony.

Defratus' mother, Pasty Parker, was called back to the stand Friday afternoon.

"There's not really any way you can know unless you walk up on your child and you don't recognize him...it's a nightmare," Parker told jurors. "No one but God has a right to take another human beings life."

She said her son's brutal death has caused her physical and emotional pain. She said she can hardly sleep at night.

Parker said her son's trailer is still on her property in Huntington, but "They had to burn the furniture that had the blood on it."

The state rested and the defense called their first witness, Larry Collier, Fielder's uncle by marriage and former employer.

"I never had a problem with him," said Collier. "I love the boy to death...I've never seen the boy explode."

Fielder's mother, Denita Jo Messer, testified that her son is a hard worker.

"My son is a gentle bear," Messer cried. "He's always been big and he's had a big heart...he can't hurt a fly."

She said her son sobbed when he had to put a cat down.

"My son is not a mean person," said Messer. "I've always known him to walk away if he was angry."

She looked out at Defratus' family and said, "I am sorry for your loss, but my son did not do this intentionally or on purpose."

In closing arguments for the sentencing phase, Carswell brought up Fielder's criminal past.

"The Gary that you saw in these photographs is the way that many of unfortunately his family members and you will remember Gary Defratus," she said.

A friend of Fielder's also took the stand and said he lived with her an her husband for several months.

"Tommy, since I've known him has been the sweetest, kindest person I've ever known," said Stacy Scott.

Barbara Woodrum, Fielder's great aunt, said Fielder used to help her do things around the house.

"He just wouldn't kill an animal, I don't believe," said Woodrum.

Terri Collier, Fielder's aunt by marriage, testified that her nephew "got along with everybody."

However, the prosecution pointed out that Collier didn't know Fielder when he was convicted for two burglaries in Dallas County.

Fielder's wife took the stand again and began crying.

"He's got a two-year-old little boy and I want him to be able to see his daddy," his wife said. "I've got two other little boys who ask me every day when he's coming home and I can't answer it, I can't tell them anything...this hurts so much."

When the prosecuting attorney began questioning her, she said all three kids were there when her husband was arrested. She admitted Child Protective Services removed their child from the home because the boy tested positive for meth.

She said CPS had the baby for a year and she was able to get him back on her own and she found a place to live on her own. Fielder's wife pleaded guilty to child endangerment and she's now on probation for five years.

The wife admitted Fielder came to Huntington to sell illegal drugs.

In closing arguments for the sentencing phase, Carswell brought up Fielder's criminal past.

"The Gary that you saw in these photographs is the way that many of unfortunately his family members and you will remember Gary Defratus," she said.

"There were a lot of tears shed in this courtroom...As you heard Mr. Fielder has been in the penitentiary at least four times," she said. "His first time was in June 1997, he was 17 yrs old. And a year later. When he was 30 years old, he received 15 years for burglaries ... And now at 40."

"What was Thomas Fielder doing when he came to Lufkin?" she asked. "He was here to see his family but he was also here to sell marijuana."

"This case, these circumstances, these facts of this very, very brutal murder will define the lives of these people for the rest of their lives," said Carswell, pointing to Defratus' family.

She told the jury to consider the choices, facts and patterns in Fielder's choices, and the brutality of the case.

"Everybody has suffered," Whiteker said in his closing remarks. "But not everybody is without merit. As you can see there are people who support him, who love him, who believe him."

"Here you have the option of giving out mercy," Whiteker said. "That's why we have a punishment range and that's why I'm asking you to set it down as low as 25 and give this man another chance. It doesn't hurt to give someone another chance."

"Mr. Fielder has had all the chances he needs," Carswell said in her rebuttal. "He's so selfish just like he was that night to not even seek help for someone. He wants you to think 'me.' Don't forget that."

"The range of punishment you have to choose is no less than 25 years and all the way up to 99 or life. Mercy may not be appropriate in this case. If you can look at those photographs and decide that mercy is more important than the future of our community or any other community that he chooses to live in, it may not be the right decision."

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