“I understand. You defended yourself,” part of the testimony from Fort Wayne detective

FORT WAYNE,, Ind. (WANE) — On Friday, an Allen County jury found a young man guilty of murder, reckless homicide, two counts of criminal recklessness and a fifth count of using a firearm in the commission of an offense.

The charges stemmed from an incident where a 29-year-old mother died during a shootout at the Villages of Hanna apartment complex in May 2021.

Jamarion Thomas, now 22, was 20 years old when a group of older men opened fire on apartment building 5B after Thomas responded to their threats by firing a round from his rifle.

Prosecutors said Thomas was the instigator

The prosecution led by Chief Deputy Thomas Chaille and Chief Counsel Tesa Helge, the two top prosecutors under Allen County Prosecutor Michael McAlexander, wanted the jury to believe that Jamarion Thomas provoked, instigated and willingly cooperated in the gun battle that ensued after he drove into the parking lot on May 22, 2021 around 12:35 a.m.

He is seen on camera surveillance carrying a long gun that prosecutors said he fired callously into the parking lot after engaging with a crowd of older men who were drinking and menacing Thomas, his relatives and friends and most importantly, his mother, Tilonda Thomas as the Thomas party got out of three separate cars and prepared to go into their apartment in 5B.

Thomas “was the catalyst that set it off, him waving that gun around,” Chaille said in closing arguments. He suggested that the way Thomas was walking into the apartment and his behavior an hour later while he was detained at police headquarters, his legs shackled to the floor showed that he was angry and confrontational, and possibly drunk.

If he’d just gone inside as his mother and aunt wanted, there wouldn’t have been a gun battle.

“He was dying to fire that gun,” said Chaille, who suggested that muzzle flashes seen in video surveillance lighting up the parking lot before Thomas fired the warning shot could have come from his legally-obtained AR-15 as well. Bullets from a high-velocity gun pierced the outside walls of 7B, across the parking lot from the Thomas apartment, that pierced the walls and insisted one of Thomas’s bullets killed Candiace Lay, 29, in 7B.

But witness testimony suggested that Thomas attempted to protect himself, his family and his dwelling when he shot the warning shot. By the time his mother had been shot four times just inside the 5B entrance, 50 bullets were fired into 5B, busting out glass, blowing through siding and wounding people, creating terror.

Thomas’ attorney, Robert Scremin, who placed his hands on Thomas’ shoulders as he began his arguments, said Thomas stepped outside and fired more than 70 rounds in answer to the attack on his home.

Defense blames the ‘cowards’ in the parking lot

Scremin blamed Lay’s death on the “cowards in the parking lot” who “scattered like rats” after pumping 50 rounds into 5B. Detectives couldn’t find any of the men – estimated to be at least five – nor would any witnesses or residents identify them. At Eden Green, residents fear retaliation, according to testimony.

At the time of the incident, a sergeant with the Gang & Violent Crimes Unit said people from Chicago and Detroit lived at the complex, now known as Villages of Hanna, and had “no history in Fort Wayne.”

It was the testimony of Talazia Thomas, Thomas’ older sister, that the men were “prepared to shoot” and at least two had their guns drawn.

‘He didn’t want to murder anyone’ – defense

“He (Thomas) didn’t want to murder anyone. He didn’t point a firearm at any one or shoot anyone. There were no gunshots in the parking lot, no shell casings (from an AR 15),” Scremin said. The gunmen “hit their target at that entrance. Thomas’ mother, Tilonda Thomas, was shot in the chest four times and nearly two years later is still recovering. She’s had 15 surgeries, is not able to hold down a job and says she gets no help from the city or state.

“It’s not until Jamarion’s mother is shot. Then he comes outside and returns fire.” While the others scattered and were guilty, Jamarion stayed to protect his family and the testimony proved it, Scremin said. Shell casings from the AR-15 were found in a pile in front of 5B, the place where the gun was fired.

Self defense is tricky. You can use reasonable force to protect yourself from deadly force, which is why the prosecution was keen to say Thomas started the whole mess. Scremin argued the opposite.

“His mother has already been shot four times in the chest. That’s deadly force. The people in that parking lot used deadly force,” Scremin insisted. “The apartment was under attack.”

Scremin said the list of five charges offered the jury choices. Say those 12 jurors reject the idea of outright murder, that he didn’t intend to kill anyone, whether by accident or purpose, the second charge against Thomas was reckless homicide, a Felony 5 that carries a sentence of between one and six years.

But, Scremin said, if you think he fired in self defense, Thomas was innocent of all charges.

“Jamarion Thomas saw his mother crawl into their apartment,” Scremin said to the jury. “How can he not be in shock. His heart rate is through the roof. He has tunnel vision.” When the police come in, it’s likely he can’t hear after firing 70 rounds because he had no ear protection.

“We can’t even begin to put ourselves in that position,” Scremin said.  The police found Thomas’ rifle on the floor, with live ammunition. He had come in to to reload.

Forget for a moment the shooting occurred at Eden Green, one of the most notorious apartment complexes in the city, where Officer Matt Foote of the Gang Unit testified Fort Wayne police constantly patrol for trouble.

That was Scremin’s ask. What if it was your neighborhood? Then would you believe it was self defense?

That was the final statement of Detective Andrew Noll who interviewed Thomas around 5 a.m., a few hours after the gun battle took place, Scremin said.

“I understand. You defended yourself.”

Thomas’ sentencing has been set for April 14.