A man charged with causing a Columbus police officer to fatally shoot a burglary victim could face 15 years to life in prison after he was convicted this week of murder.
A Fairfield County Common Pleas jury found David J. O’Neal guilty of all charges, which also included two counts of aggravated burglary and single counts of aggravated robbery and robbery. The crimes carry gun specifications that will add to O’Neal’s sentence.
O’Neal, 20, was convicted of murder in the death of Destin A. Thomas last year outside Thomas’ apartment building in a part of Columbus’ Far East Side that’s in Fairfield County.
Though O’Neal didn’t shoot Thomas, Ohio criminal law provides for anyone charged with a serious felony that results in a death to also be charged with murder.
“We’re delighted with the verdict, and so pleased for the Thomas family,” said Fairfield County Prosecutor Gregg Marx.
“This was not an easy case.”
Thomas’ father, William Thomas, hugged Marx and two assistant prosecutors, then left the courtroom with tears in his eyes. He declined to comment.
Destin Thomas, 21, was shot after calling 911 about 8:45 a.m. on July 17, 2012, to say that someone was breaking into his apartment. At least two burglars had kicked in his locked front door and eventually kicked in the door to Thomas’ bedroom, where he was hiding.
Thomas wrested a handgun from O’Neal and ran outside holding it, with O’Neal running behind him, prosecutors told jurors.
As Columbus Police Officer William T. Kaufman approached the building in response to the burglary call, he saw a man running with a gun that he testified was pointed “dead on” at him, so he shot that man — Thomas — twice, killing him.
O’Neal kept running and was caught later that day after he stole a Columbus police officer’s cruiser.
Kaufman was cleared by a grand jury in the shooting. The gun that Thomas had taken from O’Neal was not loaded, jurors were told.
Prosecutors argued that O’Neal was responsible for the fatal shooting of Thomas because the burglary led to Thomas’ death.
“If that burglary had not occurred, Destin would still be alive,” Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Hunter said.
Defense attorney Tom Elwing acknowledged that O’Neal was in the apartment trying to steal recording equipment but said he was not responsible for the fatal shooting. O’Neal did not take the stand during the trial, which began last week.
O’Neal, of Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb, didn’t know Thomas. The other burglar has not been caught.
The jury also convicted O’Neal of grand theft of a motor vehicle, receiving stolen property, vandalism and obstructing official business.
Judge Chris A. Martin has not scheduled O’Neal’s sentencing.
By Mary Beth Lane - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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