Unknown gunmen are still out there, as trial unfolds

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Jamarion Thomas sat calmly in the courtroom, rarely changing expression as his murder trial went on for hours in Allen Superior Court.

That is apparently the way he was when officer Nicholas McCurdy transported Thomas, then 20, to police headquarters from the Villages of Hanna after he engaged in a gun battle on May 22, 2021 with at least five unknown gunmen.

None of those men currently face any charges as Thomas awaits his fate on charges of murder, reckless homicide and criminal recklessness.

Witnesses who were with him that night said he was trying to get his family inside apartment 5B as the men threatened them.

They didn’t see him fire one round from his AR-15 in to the air, but they heard it, they said.

Gunmen fired at least 60 rounds from the parking lot into Building 5B

The gunmen returned that warning shot by firing at least 60 rounds from 9mm and 45 caliber handguns into Building 5B where Thomas lived with his mother and other family members. His mother, Tilonda Thomas, was nearly shot to death with four bullets to the chest. His aunt and Thomas were also injured in the attack.

Thomas stepped outside his apartment building and fired more than 70 rounds from his legally obtained rifle, striking Building 7B more than 200 feet across the parking lot and killing 29-year-old Candiace Lay. Besides autopsy photos of the deadly gunshot wound to her head, crime scene photos showed where she fell in her upstairs apartment and where medical personnel took her body to try to save her.

Video surveillance also showed the rain of bullets before Thomas walked out of his apartment building, sending a spray of bullets into the night.

The prosecution brought several witnesses whose portrayal of Thomas was a son and brother who wanted to protect his mother and his family, whether that was their intention or not.

Gun battle came after a night of hanging out

That night before the shooting, a group of younger people were driving around in two separate cars, listening to music, visiting their great grandmother and hanging out. The two cars arrived at Villages of Hanna, also known as Eden Greene, at the same time.

A group of men drinking in the parking lot started menacing them and making verbal threats, witnesses said. Tilonda Thomas told them she’d take care of it as they all started to walk into 5B.

On the witness stand, Talazia Thomas, Thomas’ older sister, recalled one of the gunmen saying “We could kill you right now.”

“The other side was heated. Our side was trying to calm everyone down and be cordial,” Talazia testified.

The gunmen ‘were already prepared to shoot’ witness said

Under questioning from defense attorney Robert Scremin, Talazia described the older men as “already prepared to shoot.”

“They started shooting first and then Jamarion shot back,” Talazia said.

Another witness, Rebecca Carrillo, who was in one of the two cars, said when Thomas saw his mother lying on the floor with gunshot wounds, “he lost it.”

Both the prosecution under Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tom Chaille and Chief Counsel Tesa Helge and the defense worked the witnesses including a forensic firearm expert to determine how many bullets were fired and who fired first. Although members of Jamarion’s group said he fired one shot before the rain of bullets were fired on 5B, no one actually saw him do it. They said they heard it.

Talazia also told Chaille after her testimony that she didn’t want to testify again. She wasn’t released from her subpoena just in case the prosecution wanted to get her on the stand again.

“I’m done. I don’t feel safe,” she told him.

Detective Matt Foote with the Fort Wayne Gang & Violent Crimes Unit told jurors when he took the stand that he often patrols the Villages of Hanna on the southeast side. People are afraid to talk, often fearing retaliation.

Five unidentified gunmen are still out there and their bullets injured at least three people that night. Those gunmen scattered, Scremin said in opening arguments.

Jurors also found out that not all bullets are alike. There were likely five guns fired that night, including Thomas’ AR-15, but it could have been up to 10, said firearm expert Michelle Fletcher with the Indiana State Police laboratory.

On Thursday, continuing testimony will include Thomas’ police interview with detectives, something the prosecution will present.

Thomas didn’t know he was shot, at first

According to McCurdy, Thomas said nothing on the way to police headquarters and it was only after a short time that he realized he’d been shot in the rear end and taken to the hospital where he was treated and returned to headquarters.

On Wednesday, Officer Joel Lengerich said Thomas didn’t put up a struggle when he went to handcuff him at his apartment.

When Lengerich arrived at the scene around 12:36 a.m., the smell of gunpower was so strong he remembered it. Walking into Building 5B, he heard officers yelling ‘show us your hands!”

As he went to handcuff Thomas, Lengerich and Thomas “ended up falling to the ground because the floor was slippery….because of the blood.”  

“He volunteered that his mother had been shot,” Lengerich testified, “and that he had a gun permit.”

Thomas was then “placed in a squad car,” Lengerich said.

Tilonda Thomas will likely take the stand tomorrow in a trial that began Tuesday. She is likely to be a star witness.

Court will begin around 8:45 a.m.