Executed January 10, 2000 by Lethal Injection in Virginia
W / M / 17 - 26 Kathy J. Wiseman
3rd murderer executed in U.S. in 2000
601th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Virginia in 2000
74th murderer executed in Virginia since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Douglas Christopher Thomas
James Baxter Wiseman
W / M / 33
W / M / 33
Thomas was sentenced to death for the November 1990 capital murders of Kathy and J.B. Wiseman. Thomas was 17 years old at the time of the crime. Thomas had been dating 14 year old Jessica Wiseman, the daughter of Kathy and "J.B." for a while before the murders. Their relationship was serious and her parents did not approve. They pressured Jessica to break-up the relationship with Thomas, however, Jessica was unwilling to do so. She became angry with her parents and stated that she wished they were removed from her life. In his confession Thomas stated that he had smoked some marijuana on his way over to the Wiseman house and carried with him a shotgun. He said Jessica helped him in the window and they then arranged some drugs on the floor to make it appear to be an attempted robbery. Thomas then went down the hall to the Wiseman's bedroom and shot them as they slept. Thomas said Mrs. Wiseman did not die from the first shooting and Jessica implored Thomas to shoot her again. He did, killing her instantly. Jessica was tried as a juvenile and was released when she turned 21.
W / M / 17 - 26
Kathy J. Wiseman
Thomas v. Commonwealth, 419 S.E.2d 606 (Va. 1992) (Direct Appeal).
Thomas v. Garraghty, 522 S.E.2d 865 (Va. 1999) (State Habeas).
Thomas v. Taylor, 170 F.3d 466 (4th Cir. 1999) (Federal Habeas).
Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
In November 1991, Douglas Christopher Thomas was sentenced to death for the November 1990 capital murders of Kathy and J.B. Wiseman. Thomas was 17 years old at the time of the crime.
Thomas had been dating 14 year old Jessica Wiseman, the daughter of Kathy and "J.B." for a while before the murders. Their relationship was serious and her parents did not approve. They pressured Jessica to break-up the relationship with Thomas, however, Jessica was unwilling to do so. She became angry with her parents and stated that she wished they were removed from her life.
In his confession Thomas stated that he had smoked some marijuana on his way over to the Wiseman house on the night of the murders. He also carried with him a shotgun. Jessica helped him in the window and then arranged some drugs on the floor to make it appear to be an attempted robbery. When Thomas expressed doubts about carrying through with the murders, Jessica insisted that it be done. Thomas then went down the hall to the Wiseman's bedroom and shot them as they slept. Mrs. Wiseman did not die from the first shooting and Jessica implored Thomas to shoot her again. He did, killing her instantly.
Thomas latter tried to suppress the confession, stating that it was involuntary because he was only seventeen years old at the time of the offense, was a high-school dropout, had slept only two hours in the forty-hour period preceding his interrogation, and was beset by people he thought held great ill will toward him. In addition, Thomas says, the police initiated all conversations, and he felt surrounded by authorities who obviously wanted him to confess. Furthermore, Thomas continues, the testimony of Dr. Earl H. Williams, II, a clinical psychologist, confirmed that Thomas's ability to make an informed decision about waiving his Miranda rights had been compromised because he was developmentally immature, "was unable`to make decisions at an adult level," was at the "lower end of the`average range of intellectual function," and was sleep-deprived.
"It is unreasonable to believe," Thomas concludes, `"that under these circumstances [his] confession ... was obtained by anything other than coercion and duress." The trial court denied his motion to suppress the confession and it was admitted as evidence.
Thomas also argues that he should have been granted a change of venue due the vast amount of pre-trial publicity the case received. In his support of Thomas' argument, Dr. Donald Smith stated that he administered a random survey and he found that between 96.3% and 99.3% of the "small population of Middlesex County readily recognized" the Thomas case. He testified further that, of those surveyed, 38.7% expressed the opinion that Thomas was guilty, 1.4% thought he was innocent, and 59.8% expressed no opinion. Dr. Smith opined that between 35% and 57% of those expressing no opinion were "contaminated," meaning they were `more likely to convict than those who [were not subjected to the pretrial publicity]." However, the Commonwealth produced its own evidence which contradicted that of Thomas and the trial court agreed with the Commonwealth, thereby permitting the trial to remain in Middlesex county. The Appellate court denied Thomas' appeal and upheld his death sentence.
Douglas Christopher Thomas has been on death row since November 22, 1991.
In November 1991, Douglas Christopher Thomas was sentenced to death for the November 1990 capital murders of Kathy and J.B. Wiseman. Thomas was 17 years old at the time of the crime. Thomas had been dating 14 year old Jessica Wiseman, the daughter of Kathy and "J.B." for a while before the murders. Their relationship was serious and her parents did not approve. They pressured Jessica to break-up the relationship with Thomas, however, Jessica was unwilling to do so. She became angry with her parents and stated that she wished they were removed from her life. In his confession Thomas stated that he had smoked some marijuana on his way over to the Wiseman house on the night of the murders. He also carried with him a shotgun. He said Jessica helped him in the window and they then arranged some drugs on the floor to make it appear to be an attempted robbery. Thomas then went down the hall to the Wiseman's bedroom and shot them as they slept. Thomas said Mrs. Wiseman did not die from the first shooting and Jessica implored Thomas to shoot her again. He did, killing her instantly. Jessica was tried as a juvenile and was released when she turned 21.
Pacific News Service
"Death Row Inmate's Last Words -- U.S. Leads The World In Use Of The Death Penalty For Minors," by Dennis Bernstein (January 11, 2000)
(The execution of Douglas Christopher Thomas in Virginia for a crime he committed when he was 17-years-old drew considerable attention because his co-defendant served only seven years for the same crime. He is the first of three death row inmates scheduled to die this month for crimes committed when they were minors. Thomas talked with PNS correspondent Dennis Bernstein about fairness and his fate three days before he died. Bernstein is executive producer of the Pacifica radio daily news show "Flashpoints.")
Douglas Christopher Thomas was executed Monday for a crime he committed when he was 17-years-old. Thomas, who was 26, spent his entire adult life on death row. He was prepared for Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore's refusal to sign a stay of execution, saying he was ready to die. "The whole process that you go through while being on death row prepares you to die," he said, "because you're faced with death every day. If it is God's will that I die at 26, then I'm prepared to go."
Thomas spoke with me Friday afternoon, January 7, by telephone from his death row cell. He was calm, forthright and quite focused as he repeated his claim that his girlfriend, Jessica Wiseman, masterminded the 1990 murder of her parents and fired the shot that killed her mother. Several federal court decisions and new evidence support Thomas' claim. Because Wiseman was 14 at the time of the crime, she is now free. Thomas said he was not bitter about this, but was troubled that "she was given only seven years, and she is free to resume her normal life while I'm four days away from paying the ultimate price for something we both participated in."
Thomas initially took the blame for the 1990 double murder of James and Catherine Wiseman. He confessed without advice of counsel and while he was high on drugs and alcohol. Like many child and juvenile offenders, Thomas had an extremely difficult childhood. His parents divorced before he was born -- Thomas did not meet his father until last year. At two, his mother left him to be adopted and raised by his grandparents. When he was twelve, his life unraveled. Several close relatives, including his grandparents, died suddenly. He was shuffled back to his mother, though the two of them did not get along. In 1989, at 16, Thomas attempted to take his own life.
Around this time, he met Wiseman. Thomas said he was so desperate for love he would have done anything his new girlfriend told him to do. Wiseman's parents tried to break up the couple, and her father threatened to kill him. "I wanted to be with my co-defendant," he said, "we were so much in love and her parents were trying to keep us apart. "Jessica just showed me that love I so desperately needed and wanted that I would have basically done anything to keep her around. But I was just a kid when I committed the crime. I mea, I still had the capacity to change, to grow, to learn, and I have." Thomas felt he should be given a chance to live. "I made the wrong decision. So I can't be angry at anyone but myself. But I don't feel the U.S. should execute juvenile offenders because it's basically saying that we have no chance to be rehabilitated. "I can't see how at seventeen a court could say, 'Well, this juvenile doesn't have the capacity to learn and to grow and to mature."'
Thomas is not alone in his sentiments. In fact, failure to abide by international treaties and UN conventions regarding the execution of youthful and child offenders has made the United States a pariah state. Amnesty International reports 191 states have joined a "global consensus against executing child offenders." The United States has earned the "shameful distinction of leading a tiny and dwindling group of states.... Only five countries outside the United States are known to have executed child offenders since 1990." In that decade, the U.S. has executed 10 child offenders, more than the five other countries combined. Chris Thomas' execution means the United States is the first country in the world to execute a juvenile offender who claimed that such an execution violates international law and well established fundamental norms of international human rights. Two more death row inmates convicted of crimes as minors are scheduled to die this month -- Steve Edward Roach in Virginia on Jan. 13 and Glen Charles McGinnis in Texas on Jan. 25.
The stay of execution in June left him with "mixed feelings," Thomas said. "Since I've been on death row I've been searching for one thing and that's finality. In June I thought finally something is going to happen. I'm either going to be given life in prison or I'm going to die. "When the stay came down I was happy for my family because I'm still here and that made them happy. Personally, I knew I was going back and would have to go through this whole process over again and I was a little disappointed."
Asked what he would do if set free, Thomas listed three things. "The very first thing I would do would be to go to church, get down on my hands and knees and thank God because it would truly be a miracle. The second thing would be to try to put all this behind me and try to get some normalcy back in my life. Try to get a job. Try to do something positive -- maybe join the military for the discipline, the adventure, the traveling and the camaraderie."
Thomas worked hard to create some normalcy in his life. He earned his GED and reestablished family ties, including with his estranged dad. "He read in the newspaper that I had gotten an execution date and he called the prison and he requested to speak with me," said Thomas. "I called back and we communicated back and forth on the telephone. "This past June when I came down to Greenville [for the execution] they allowed him to come back and visit me and that was the first time I had ever seen him in my life. It meant a great deal, because even though he wasn't there in the past, he did at least try and make an effort now."
Amnesty International - Letter to Governor Gilmore
Letter from Pierre Sané, Secretary General, Amnesty International, to the Governor of Virginia on the execution of child offender Douglas Christopher Thomas. (January 13, 2000)
The Honourable James Gilmore
Governor of Virginia
Amnesty International very deeply regrets that you allowed the execution of Douglas Christopher Thomas to proceed on 10 January 2000 in violation of international law banning the use of the death penalty against child offenders -- those who commit crimes when under 18 years old.
The organization urges you to grant clemency to Steve Edward Roach, scheduled for execution tonight, also for a murder committed when he was 17. By appealing for clemency, we in no way seek to excuse that crime or belittle the suffering it has caused. We seek only Virginia's compliance with international law and global standards of justice.
Amnesty International notes that in your statement regarding the execution of Chris Thomas, you made reference to the international ban on the use of the death penalty against child offenders: "....it has been asserted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits the Commonwealth from executing Thomas because he was 17 years old at the time he murdered Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman. Although the United States Senate ratified this treaty on April 2, 1992, it expressly conditioned its ratification on the continued right of states to impose the death penalty on murderers under the age of 18 years. Both the Virginia Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have rejected Thomas' claim that the treaty bars his execution."
Amnesty International would respectfully remind you of several specific points which you failed to mention. Firstly, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the expert body which oversees countries compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as many other international experts, have stated that this US reservation to the ICCPR should be withdrawn as it is incompatible with the treaty and therefore invalid. Secondly, 11 countries have expressly voiced their objections to the US reservation on the same grounds. Thirdly, the ban on the death penalty against child offenders is so widely agreed and adhered to that it is considered a principle of customary international law, binding on all countries regardless of which international treaties they have or have not ratified. As you may recall, prior to the previous scheduled execution of Chris Thomas on 16 June 1999, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights appealed to you to stop the execution and "reaffirm the customary international law ban on the use of the death penalty on juvenile offenders". At the time, the High Commissioner was in Russia -- a country which had just announced a moratorium on the death penalty.
Only five countries outside the USA -- Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- are known to have executed child offenders in the past decade. One of them, Yemen, has since abolished this practice. In 1997 China, the country which accounts for the highest number of the world's executions each year, also outlawed the use of the death penalty against child offenders.
With the execution of Chris Thomas, Virginia has earned the ignominious distinction of joining the only three other jurisdictions in the world known to have executed more than one child offender in the past decade: Texas, Iran, and Pakistan. If you allow the execution of Steve Roach tonight, Virginia will have accounted for half of the world total of executions of child offenders carried out since October 1997. That fact would undoubtedly further shame the state of Virginia, and the USA as a whole, on the world stage.
In your State of the Commonwealth address yesterday you said "I'm pleased to report to you that the state of the commonwealth is excellent, in fact, has never been better." You went on to say that "[t]he tourism initiatives that I have proposed will open the doors to our vast wealth of history, beauty and culture. And in doing so, we will reap tremendous economic benefits, and we will also tell our fellow citizens across America and people around the world the inspiring story of who we are and how we came to be Virginians."
In recent days, in national newspapers, and on radio and TV broadcasts across the globe, a very different aspect of Virginia's culture at the start of the 21st century has been shown. It is safe to say that what is happening in your state's lethal injection chamber is shocking very many people across a world in which almost no other country would allow such executions to proceed.
Amnesty International once again urges you to show the type of leadership required to bring your state into compliance with international law and standards of human decency recognized and practiced across the world. We urge you to use your power of executive clemency to commute the death sentence of Steve Roach.
Pierre Sané, Secretary General, Amnesty International
Yahoo! Group stopkillingkids
A Call to Action For Douglas Christopher Thomas
Douglas Christopher Thomas, “Chris” was sentenced to death in 1991 for a crime he committed at the age of seventeen. If executed, Chris will be the second juvenile offender killed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1976.
Aside from the gross human rights violation the death-sentencing and execution of children represents, it sends a patently harmful message to America’s youth – the message that killing in some circumstances is the just thing to do, that violence can sometimes solve serious problems. It is time for our government – on both the state and national levels – to begin respecting the human rights of all children and to stop pitching vengeance as a solution to youth violence.
Worse than this policy itself, is its enactment without any input from the very people it effects most directly -- young people. Minors are denied the two rights which would give them some power to curb use of the juvenile death penalty – the right to vote for politicians who oppose it, and the right to sit on a jury to judge their peers for themselves. Given this exclusion from the political process, young people are forced to work for change from the outside.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is calling on young people (ages 25 and under) from across the country to come to Richmond, VA on June 16th to meet with Governor James Gilmore. IF THE GOVERNOR WILL NOT LISTEN TO OUR DEMANDS, THEN WE WILL MAKE HIM AND THE REST OF THE COMMONWEALTH LISTEN THROUGH THE USE OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE!!! OUR VOICES WILL BE HEARD!!! If you're interested in joining us in Richmond, please contact Brian Henninger. Housing and food will be provided, you just have to get yourself there.
MORE BACKGROUND ON CHRIS THOMAS
The state of Virginia plans to execute its second juvenile offender since 1976 on June 16th. Douglas Christopher Thomas (“Chris”) was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his girlfriend’s parents, B.J. and Kathy Wiseman, when he was just seventeen.
Until the age of twelve, Chris lived with his maternal grandparents. His mother left him when he was two, and his father has only seen him twice -- once after he was born in the hospital and again in 1996 when he visited him on the row. While he lived with his grandparents, Chris was thought to be a happy and well-adjusted child.
An unfortunate string of deaths in the family destroyed the stability Chris enjoyed for twelve years of his life. Both of his grandparents and a close uncle passed away in 1985. Chris had to go live with his mother who flatly ignored him. He began acting out -- missing school, experimenting with drugs, committing petty offenses, etc. His grades fell drastically.
In the summer of 1990, Chris met and entered into a sexual relationship with Jessica Wiseman. Jessica was extremely important to Chris because she gave him what he craved most – attention. This emotional dependence allowed Jessica to manipulate Chris into doing what she wanted. After her parents tried to restrict her relationship with Chris, what Jessica wanted was to see them dead. The children devised a plan which had Chris shooting Jessica’s parents.
On the night of November 10, 1990, after smoking some pot, drinking some alcohol, and popping some Valium pills, Chris and Jessica carried out their terrible plan. Chris shot Jessica’s parents once each as they slept. Mr. Wiseman died immediately, his wife did not.
This is where the facts of the case are unclear, yet terribly important. After police questioning which took place without a parent or attorney present and while he was still high, Chris confessed to both murders. Since that time, however, Chris has retracted part of that confession, saying that it was Jessica who fired the second and fatal into her mother. Had evidence to this effect been presented at trial, the one aggravating factor in Chris’ case (the “vileness” of the second shot) would have evaporated, and the jury might have spared his life.
Setting aside the facts of Chris’ case, international law prohibits the death-sentencing and execution of juvenile offenders. Virginia will be committing an egregious human rights violation if it follows through with this execution.
Please write to Governor Gilmore. Tell him that we as a society need to stop sending our kids the message that hatred and violence and killing are justified in some situations.
Yahoo! Group stopkillingkids
THE CLEMENCY PETITION - Imminent Execution Scheduled June 16, 1999.
Douglas Christopher Thomas requests that the Governor exercise his power of executive clemency and commute the death sentence that is scheduled to be carried out June 16, 1999.
This is appropriate due to the vast disparity in sentences between Chris and his co-defendant, Jessica Wiseman, despite the closeness of their respective culpability. By all accounts, the mastermind and the motivating force behind the crime for which Chris is scheduled to be executed was co-defendant, fourteen year-old Jessica Wiseman. As noted by the federal district court judge who reviewed the evidence in this case, “The record strongly supports the conclusion that it was Jessica Wiseman who wanted her parents killed and who instigated Thomas to carry out her wishes.” Memo. Op., Thomas v. Netherland, No. 96-1502-A (E.D. Va. June 11, 1998). The Supreme Court of Virginia observed that, “[s]ome three months before the murders occurred, Jessica was heard to say that she ‘wished to get rid of [her parents].’” Thomas v. Commonwealth, 419 S.E.2d 606, 608 (Va. 1992). She enlisted Chris to carry out her plans. The three judges of the United States Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit found that Chris “murdered the Wisemans at the behest of their daughter, Jessica[.]” Thomas v. Taylor, 170 F.3d 466, 469 (4th Cir. 1999).
In spite of her controlling role in the crimes, a quirk of Virginia law – since corrected by the efforts of then-Attorney General Gilmore and others – Jessica and Chris could not be tried together as equal co-conspirators and could not be subjected to punishment proportionate to their relative culpability. As a result, Chris faces execution by the Commonwealth while Jessica is free from prison and any future punishment to rebuild her life and overcome the tragic mistakes she made as a juvenile. We ask that the Governor exercise his extraordinary executive power to commute Chris’ death sentence and to bring a proper balance into the punishments meted out for these crimes.
FACTS ABOUT THE CRIME
We do not attempt to minimize the tragedy wreaked by Chris’ and Jessica’s crimes. On November 10, 1990, James Baxter (“J.B.”) Wiseman and Kathy Wiseman, were murdered in their home in Middlesex County, Virginia. At about 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., the Wiseman’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Jessica, ran to Chris’ house, banged loudly on the door, and told Chris’ aunt, Brenda Marshall, that someone had shot her parents. Mrs. Marshall comforted Jessica and reported the crime to the police. Later that day, Chris took full responsibility for committing the murders.
Chris was transferred from juvenile court and tried as an adult. He was convicted of the capital murder of Kathy Wiseman as part of the same act in killing J.B. Wiseman. Chris plead guilty to killing Mr. Wiseman. He was sentenced to death for killing Mrs. Wiseman. Jessica, on the other hand, was adjudicated as a juvenile. Though there was no dispute about her degree of involvement in the crimes, she was sentenced to be held in custody only until she was no longer a juvenile. Once she reached the “adult” age of 21 years, she was assured that she would be released.
FACTS ABOUT DOUGLAS CHRISTOPHER THOMAS AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH CO-DEFENDANT, JESSICA WISEMAN
It is extremely important for the Governor to understand the relationship between Chris and Jessica, and why Chris was particularly susceptible to Jessica’s biddings.
Chris was born May 29, 1973 to Margaret Marshall Thomas and Robert Christopher Thomas. Chris’ dad visited the hospital on the day Chris was born. Since that day, he never saw Chris, and had no contact with him, until 1996 when he visited his son on death row. Chris’ mother’s “involvement” was sporadic at best. She gave him up for adoption when he was two (2) years old to his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Marshall. Chris lived with the Marshall’s in Middlesex County until 1985. His mother had very little contact with him during the years between 1975 and 1985, a time during which she struggled very much with problems of her own.
In addition to his grandparents, Chris developed an extremely close relationship with his favorite uncle, Mr. Winfred Childress, who also lived in Middlesex County. In the summer of 1985, when Chris was just 12 years old, he was struck by an almost unimaginable string of tragedies to him and his adoptive family. First, Uncle Winfred, the closest thing to a father or to a companion Chris had ever known, died suddenly in a work-related accident. Chris was heart-broken and felt abandoned. His aged grandparents could not replace Uncle Winfred to the 12-year-old boy. But things became worse. In August, Chris’ grandmother (adoptive mother) died. Chris was left with only his elderly grandfather (adoptive father). Then, as happens too often with older couples who have spent the majority of their lives with a single spouse, Chris’ grandfather followed his wife to the grave. He died in December of 1985.
In less than six months, the only family Chris ever knew was gone. Without anyone to look after him, Chris was forced to live with his biological mother in Chesterfield County, Virginia. As might be expected, just the move from the Northern Neck to Chesterfield County was a big adjustment for Chris. Living with his mother for the first time in his childhood also caused enormous stress for the young boy. The change was made especially difficult for Chris because his mother was living with her lesbian lover who insisted that her two (2) adolescent children also be allowed to live at the house. To make matters worse, Chris’ mother was having having serious and tense relationship problems with her live-in lesbian lover.
In another unfortunate turn, alcohol and drugs, including marijuana and LSD, found their way into Chris’ life, offering some comfort and escape from his internal confusion and tension, as well as the ever-growing problems at home and school. He also became involved in sporadic and petty property crimes. In mid-1989, these problems and anxieties became so pronounced that Chris attempted to take his own life. Doctors ordered that he be hospitalized to receive psychiatric treatment. He was subsequently placed in the Hanover County Learning Center for several weeks in 1989 where he was diagnosed with depression and problems with unresolved grief due to the death of his grandparents, and the lifestyle and type of home his mother provided in Chesterfield County.
In early 1990, counselors, proposed a hopeful solution to the severe problems Chris developed in Chesterfield County. This directed that he be returned to Middlesex County, Virginia, where he had prospered with his grandparents and uncle. It was arranged for him to live with his aunt and uncle, Brenda and Herbert Marshall. Despite the promising logic which motivated the move – to re-create the only positive home environment Chris ever knew – it never worked out. There was constant conflict in the Marshall home, and Herbert Marshall frequently threatened that he would make Chris move back to Chesterfield County with his mother. These threats, and Chris’ fear of having to return to his mother’s home, created a desperation in young Chris.
In 1990, when Chris learned that his mother was on her way from Chesterfield to Middlesex to pick him up, he fled to North Carolina with several other teenagers in a stolen car to avoid being sent back to live with his mother. Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1990, Chris became involved in an intense emotional and sexual relationship with Jessica Wiseman. Jessica was fourteen (14) years old at the time. She was, by all accounts, precocious and in control of the relationship.
During the school year of 1990, the two students arranged to be left at home and essentially unsupervised during school hours. Jessica Wiseman’s parents, J.B. and Kathy Wiseman, did not approve of this relationship and forbade Chris and Jessica from seeing one another. Despite her parent’s disapproval, Jessica insisted on Chris seeing her on a daily basis, most often at her parents’ house while they were out. In the weeks and days prior to the murders, Mr. Wiseman’s disapproval escalated to threats against Chris, several times warning him to stay away from Jessica or Mr. Wiseman would kill him.
Jessica proposed to Chris that they kill her parents in order to be together. She insisted that Chris carry out this plan. Chris did not want to do this but he desperately did not want to lose Jessica. On the night of the crime, the two argued about whether they should carry out the plan. Jessica insisted that it be done. After two hours of Jessica’s threatening and cajoling, Chris gave in. Although his agreement with Jessica was wildly out of character for Chris, his personality and circumstances were especially susceptible to her coercion.
Chris functioned in the borderline range of intellectual functioning with particular deficits in the areas of knowledge, verbal expression, comprehension and social judgment. In those vital areas, Chris was in the mental retardation range. The psychologist selected by the trial court to examine Chris for the defense, Dr. Earle Williams, Ph.D., concluded that, at the time of the killing, Chris was extremely susceptible to the influence and suggestions of Jessica Wiseman due to his subnormal I.Q. and social functioning. Dr. Williams also concluded that at the time of the shootings, Chris acted under extreme mental and emotional disturbance.
The psychologist chosen by the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Dr. Henry Gwaltney, Ph.D., found the circumstances extremely mitigating. It has been his striking and unprecedented position – since the time of the trial until this day – that the evidence in this case does not justify a death sentence for Chris.
As mentioned above, Jessica was charged with murder for her role in her parents’ deaths. Jessica was born on July 26, 1976. She was fourteen years old at the time of her crimes. Her murder charge was not transferred to Circuit Court. She was tried in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for Middlesex County, Virginia on June 26, 1991. She was convicted of both murders and was committed to the Virginia Department of Youth Corrections until her 21st birthday, which was July 26,1997. She has since been released from state custody, and is free and living in Virginia at this time.
On August 23, 1991, Jessica was called as a witness in the Petitioner’s case. She refused to testify, citing her right against self-incrimination. Despite the provisions of 19.2-270 of the Code of Virginia, the Court allowed Jessica to invoke her privilege against self-incrimination; and counsel for the Petitioner did not object.
REASONS WHY CLEMENCY IS APPROPRIATE
No one who was involved in this case – not the trial judge, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the state’s mental health expert, the court-appointed mental health expert, or even the surviving victim’s family members – believe that the Commonwealth should go forward with Chris’ execution. None of these individuals is opposed to the death penalty as a matter of course. Each, however, believes or believed (the trial judge in this case passed away last Summer but had repeatedly made known his feelings about the outcome of the case), that Chris’ execution would do nothing more than highlight an unfortunate oversight in the legal technicalities governing this case at the time of trial.
Where these technicalities create a disparity of the magnitude created in this case – and counsel is aware of no other case on death row in Virginia which presents such disparity – the Governor’s intervention is appropriate to bring the punishments meted out in this case into balance. Jessica is immune from any action by the Governor or the courts. Only Chris’ case can be acted upon. Clemency for Chris is also appropriate due to the legal options that existed during his trial. At the time Chris was tried the prosecution did not have available the sentence for life without parole. The juvenile laws at the time did not allow the prosecutor to treat Ms. Wiseman as an adult and punish her appropriately for her involvment in the offense. The prosecutor had no option but to prosecute Ms. Wiseman as a juvenile.
The true nature of clemency is both mercy and an opportunity to prevent injustice. It would be an injustice to put Chris to death where the person who planned the crime and convinced Chris to participate in it goes free. Chris does not contend nor has he ever contended that he should not be punished severely for his acts, but putting him to death is simply too severe of a sanction when his involvement and sentence is compared to co-defendant, Jessica Wisemans’.
At a minimum, the Governor should grant Chris a reprieve for a time long enough to discern the responsibilities incumbent under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States Supreme Court Justices have asked the Clinton Administration for its views on the execution of juvenile offenders in light of an international treaty which forbids such executions. The U.S. has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but filed an exception so that states could continue to execute juvenile offenders. The Nevada case of Domingues v. Nevada (No.98-8327) has challenged the legality of that reservation, and resolution of that case could provide the Governor powerful insight into the range obligations of the Commonwealth in Chris’ case.
Chris understands that the power to grant clemency is in the nature of mercy and fairness. The vast disparity between the sentence which Chris received and the sentence which his co-defendant received constitutes a compelling reason for the Governor to grant him mercy. Chris requests that he be granted clemency and his sentence commuted. Undersigned counsel request the opportunity to discuss the above information, and other information which might be helpful to the Governor in his decision, at your earliest convenience.
Respectfully Submitted, DOUGLAS CHRISTOPHER THOMAS
Z-Net (Amnesty International)
USA (Virginia) - Douglas Christopher Thomas, aged 25.
Douglas Christopher Thomas is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on 16 June 1999 for a murder committed when he was 17. International law forbids the death penalty for those under 18 at the time of the crime. Chris Thomas was convicted in 1991 of the 1990 murders of J.B. Wiseman and Kathy Wiseman, the parents of his 14-year-old girlfriend Jessica Wiseman. He received a 65-year prison sentence for the murder of J.B. Wiseman, and was sentenced to death for the murder of Kathy Wiseman.
International standards ban the use of the death penalty against children, not to excuse their crimes, but in recognition of their immaturity and potential for change. By contrast, the US justice system has decided that Chris Thomas is beyond redemption, as it has with many other of its juvenile offenders.
Chris Thomas was born on 29 May 1973. His father's only contact with him was in hospital just after the birth, and in 1996 when he visited him on death row. When he was two, his mother moved away and he was adopted by his maternal grandparents. Apart from displaying a marked fear of being left alone, Chris Thomas is said to have been a happy child until he was 12, in 1985, when several of his family died in rapid succession. An uncle with whom he was particularly close was killed in an accident, and his grandparents (his adoptive parents) died shortly after.
Chris Thomas went to live with his mother. They were not close, and she did not respond to her son's insecurities as his grandparents had. He became involved in petty offending and drug abuse. He would often miss school and his grades plummeted. Psychological assessments of him during this period describe an isolated, seriously depressed teenager who was alienated from school and home. In January 1990 he went to live with his paternal uncle and aunt, who threatened to return him to his mother when his offending continued. In the summer of 1990 he met Jessica Wiseman and the two became involved in an intense sexual relationship. Her father's disapproval of this escalated to his threatening to kill Chris if he continued to see Jessica. The children then allegedly devised a plan to kill Jessica's parents, which culminated in the shooting of the adults in their bedroom on the night of 10 November 1990.
On 11 November, under police questioning without a lawyer or an adult present, while still under the effects of alcohol and drugs, and having slept for only two hours in the past 40, Chris Thomas confessed to both murders. He later partially retracted the confession, saying that he had not fired the fatal second shot at Kathy Wiseman. She had survived the first shot, come to Jessica's bedroom where the two children were, and been shot again. The possibility that Chris Thomas had not fired this second shot was not explored at trial. Jessica Wiseman was tried separately as a juvenile and was released in 1997 at the age of 21.
Chris Thomas's defence lawyers employed a psychologist to do an assessment of him for use during the sentencing phase of his trial. He found that Chris Thomas was a developmentally immature teenager, who in taking the full blame for the crime was trying to protect Jessica. However, the defence lawyers became worried that this psychologist would be an ineffective defence witness. On the eve of the sentencing hearing they approached the prosecution's psychological expert instead and asked him to testify on Chris Thomas's behalf, including testimony that Jessica Wiseman had been the motivating factor behind the boy's actions. The prosecution's expert agreed, but stressed that he could not present a complete or adequate case for mitigation. It is highly unusual for the same expert, in effect, to testify both for and against a defendant, given that the two require different preparation and presentation. The jury decided that there were no mitigating reasons to spare Chris Thomas's life, and on 21 November 1991 the judge upheld its recommendation for a death sentence.
Before the trial, a motion for a change of venue because of extensive local publicity on the case was denied. Shortly after the proceedings, a motion for mistrial brought by the defence lawyers after they received information that several jurors had known the two murder victims personally was also denied, as have been all Chris Thomas's subsequent appeals.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child both forbid the use of the death penalty against those under 18 at the time of the crime. This principle is now so widely accepted, and adhered to, that it has become a principle of customary international law, binding on countries no matter which international instruments they have or have not ratified.
Since 1990 there have been 19 known executions of juvenile offenders in six countries. Nine were carried out in Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, while the other 10, including the only four known in 1998 and 1999, have taken place in the USA. Most recently, Sean Sellers was executed in Oklahoma on 4 February 1999 for crimes committed at 16. In October 1998, Virginia executed Dwayne Wright for a crime committed at
Man Executed for Killing Girlfriend's Parents." (January 11, 2000)
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Douglas Christopher Thomas was executed by injection Monday night for killing his girlfriend's parents when he was 17. Thomas, 26, made no final statement. Thomas fatally shot James Baxter Wiseman and Kathy Wiseman as they slept in their Middlesex home Nov. 10, 1990. The Wisemans had been trying to end the relationship between Thomas and their daughter, who was also convicted in the killing. In a telephone interview last week, Thomas said it was unfair that he faced execution while his girlfriend, convicted as a juvenile for the same crime, was released years ago.
Called penalty 'a little extreme'
"What I did when I was 17 was wrong, and yes, I should be punished. But to pay the ultimate price while my co-defendant, who is just as guilty as I am, has been released to go on with a normal life ... is a little extreme." Jessica Wiseman was 14 when she urged Thomas to kill her parents. She was convicted of murder as a juvenile because she was too young to be tried as an adult and was released in 1997. Thomas' appeal was based on an international agreement that prohibits executing juveniles. It was signed by the United States, but the Senate has refused to ratify it.
"Judge Me for What I Am Now; Teen Death Row Killers Want Second Chance," by Frank Green.
(Dec. 29, 1999) - RICHMOND, Va. (APBnews.com) -- If all goes as planned, Steve Edward Roach and Douglas Christopher Thomas will be dead in three weeks. Both men were convicted of murders committed when they were 17. According to Virginia law, they were convicted as adults, and sentenced to execution. Their appeals exhausted, Roach, now 23, and Thomas, 26, face the reality that this will be their last New Year's alive. In interviews on Virginia's death row, both men expressed remorse about their crimes, and both wish they had had some guidance when they were younger. Mostly, both wish they could live and be free. Lovers make a decision Thomas, set for a Jan. 10 execution, also said his killings were senseless. "It didn't need to happen," he says. Yet, at the time, Thomas made a calculated decision to kill for love. In 1990, the 17-year-old Thomas was dating Jessica Wiseman, 14. Her parents, Kathy J. Wiseman and James Baxter Wiseman II, wanted her to stop seeing Thomas, so the young lovers hatched a plan. Jessica let Thomas -- armed with a shotgun -- into the family's Piankatank Shores home through an open window on Nov. 10, 1990. Thomas confessed to police that he used the shotgun to kill both; James Wiseman was found dead in his bed, his wife was found in a hallway.
"We were both in love and we both wanted to be together," Thomas now says. "And, really, at that time, in our minds, that was the only way we could be together." Jessica, 14 at the time, had to be tried as a juvenile under Virginia law. She was convicted and held in a juvenile correctional center until she turned 21 in 1997 -- the maximum punishment allowed at the time. She is now free. Virginia law has since been changed permitting 14-year-olds to be tried as adults, but she would still have been too young to face the death penalty.
'I am now someone who is mature'
Thomas, however, was 17 at the time, old enough to be tried as an adult and sentenced to capital punishment. "I was naive to a lot of things when I was 17," he says. "I didn't really have any responsibility. I had the lay of the land. I could come and go as I pleased. I could have Jessica come and sleep over with me if I so desired. I really had no discipline." Now, 10 years after the crime, Thomas wishes he could have a second chance. "Judge me for what I am now," Thomas says. "I am now someone who is mature."
ABOLISH Archives (Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
January 10, 2000 - VIRGINIA: (juvenile execution)
Douglas Christopher Thomas was executed by injection Monday night for killing his girlfriend's parents when he was 17. Thomas, 26, made no final statement.
Thomas fatally shot James Baxter Wiseman and Kathy Wiseman as they slept in their Middlesex home on Nov. 10, 1990. The Wisemans had been trying to end the relationship between Thomas and their daughter, who was also convicted in the killing.
In a telephone interview last week, Thomas said it was unfair that he faced execution while his girlfriend, convicted as a juvenile for the same crime, was released years ago. "What I did when I was 17 was wrong, and yes I should be punished. But to pay the ultimate price while my co-defendant, who is just as guilty as I am, has been released to go on with a normal life ... is a little extreme."
Jessica Wiseman was 14 when she urged Thomas to kill her parents. She was convicted of murder as a juvenile because she was too young to be tried as an adult and was released in 1997. Thomas' appeal was based on an international agreement that prohibits executing juveniles. It was signed by the United States, but the Senate has refused to ratify it.
Thomas becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Virginia and the 74th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982. Thomas also becomes the 3rd condemned prisoner to be put to death this year in the USA and the 601st overall since executions were resumed on Jan. 17, 1977.
Thomas v. Com., 419 S.E.2d 606 (Va. 1992) (Direct Appeal).
On January 23, 1991, Douglas Christopher Thomas, then seventeen years of age, appeared in juvenile court charged with first degree murder in the killing of James Baxter Wiseman, II, and with capital murder in the killing of Kathy J. Wiseman as a part of the same act or transaction of killing James Baxter Wiseman, II, Thomas was also charged with two offenses of using a firearm in the killing of the victims.
Thomas waived both a preliminary hearing and a transfer hearing. As a result, the matter was transferred to circuit court, where, on January 28, 1991, Thomas was indicted for the four offenses with which he had been charged in juvenile court. Trial on all four charges was set for May 29, 1991, and then continued to August 21 of the same year. Upon arraignment on August 21, Thomas entered pleas of guilty to the charges of first degree murder and use of a firearm in the killing of Mr. Wiseman and pleas of not guilty to the charges of capital murder and use of a firearm in the killing of Mrs. Wiseman. In the first phase of the trial, the jury convicted Thomas of capital murder and use of a firearm in the commission of the killing of Kathy Wiseman and fixed punishment on the weapons charge at four years in the penitentiary. In the second phase, the jury fixed Thomas's punishment for capital murder at death, based upon a finding of "vileness." Following receipt of the report of a probation officer, the trial court held a sentencing hearing and imposed the sentences fixed by the jury in the death of Mrs. Wiseman. At the same hearing, the court sentenced Thomas to sixty-five years' imprisonment for the first degree murder of Mr. Wiseman and two years' imprisonment for the use of a firearm in that killing. Thomas is before this Court for automatic review of his death sentence, and we have consolidated that review with the appeal of his capital murder conviction.
The record shows that Thomas lived with his aunt and uncle, Brenda and Herbert Marshall, at Piankatank Shores in Middlesex County. Lanie Creech, Mrs. Marshall's twelve-year-old niece, also lived in the home. Thomas had been involved for some time in a "[v]ery intimate" relationship with fourteen-year-old Jessica Wiseman, who lived with her parents, "J.B." and Kathy Wiseman, several blocks from the Marshall residence. Jessica's parents were threatening to break up the relationship. Jessica had been wearing Thomas's class ring "for a long time," but Mrs. Wiseman made Jessica "give it back." Some three months before the murders occurred, Jessica was heard to say that she "wished to get rid of [her parents]."
Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman were murdered in the early morning hours of November 10, 1990, a Saturday. On the preceding Tuesday, Lanie Creech overheard a conversation between Thomas and Jessica in which the two discussed "[g]etting rid of her parents." Jessica asked Thomas "if he had enough bullets," and he replied in the affirmative. He asked Jessica "what time he should come over." She replied, "[m]idnight," and said that "if the window is down to go away ... it's off" but "if the window is up to come on in."
On Thursday evening, Lanie had a conversation with Thomas. She asked him why "he was so nervous." He replied that he had "to kill two people, and that he was real nervous." On Friday evening, just before midnight, Lanie observed Thomas putting on camouflage clothing and saw that he had a shotgun. He told Lanie the plan was that "after the shootings were over," he was to return home, "go in through his window and act like he was sleeping." Jessica would then come and "bang on the door."
Thomas and Lanie left the house together and walked to a nearby recreation area, where he smoked some "pot" and told Lanie he was "going over to Jessica's ... [t]o kill two people." With Lanie carrying the shotgun, the two walked to a point "a few hundred feet away from [Jessica's] house." Lanie then returned home. Later, Mrs. Marshall was awakened by someone "banging on the door." Lanie opened the door, and Jessica ran straight to Mrs. Marshall's bedroom, screaming that "someone had shot her father and that her mother was dead." Thomas was in his bedroom, and Mrs. Marshall asked him to "get dressed" and comfort Jessica while she called "the authorities."
Don F. Rhea, deputy sheriff of Middlesex County, was dispatched to the Wiseman home, and he arrived on the scene at 4:27 a.m. He entered through the unlocked front door and discovered the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman. Later in the day, Special Agent Larry A. Johnson of the Virginia State Police conducted two interviews with Thomas at the Marshall house. In the second interview, Thomas confessed to killing Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman.
ABOLISH Archives (Richmond Times Dispatch)
Douglas Christopher Thomas, the 1st of 3 juvenile offenders scheduled to be executed in Virginia and Texas this month, died by injection last night for the 1990 slayings of his girlfriend's parents. Thomas, 26, was pronounced dead at 9:03 p.m., said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. It was the 1st execution in Virginia this year and the 74th since the death penalty was reimposed here in 1977. Traylor said Thomas made no last statement.
Thomas was convicted of capital murder for the slayings of Kathy J. Wiseman and James Baxter Wiseman II, both 33, in Middlesex County on Nov. 10, 1990. The couple were the parents of Thomas' girlfriend, Jessica Wiseman, then 14. Thomas, 17 at the time, and Jessica Wiseman plotted to kill her parents after they wanted her to stop seeing Thomas. Wiseman let Thomas into the family's Piankatank Shores rambler through an open window. "We were both in love and we both wanted to be together, and really, at that time, in our minds, that was the only way we could be together," Thomas told The Times-Dispatch in a death row interview last month.
Thomas admitted to authorities that he killed the couple with a shotgun. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to death. He later said that Wiseman killed her mother. Wiseman was convicted as a juvenile and given the maximum punishment allowed at the time: imprisonment in a youth center until she turned 21. She was released in 1997. Virginia law has since been changed to allow 14-year-olds to be tried as adults.
Last year, 2 women who had served time in juvenile facilities with Wiseman said that she admitted she had killed her mother. Wiseman, in a statement released through her lawyer, strongly denied any involvement. Yesterday, a 3rd woman came forward who said that while she and Wiseman were being held in Keller Hall in what was then called the Bon Air Learning Center, Wiseman admitted killing her mother. "Jessica Wiseman was complaining because she was being called a 'killer,' so a group session was held at Keller Hall to address her concerns," claimed the 3rd woman in an affidavit forwarded to Gov. Jim Gilmore's office yesterday. The woman, who only wanted to be identified publicly by her 1st name, Carli, is a 22-year-old inmate at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, where she is serving a 6-year sentence for attempted maiming and use of a firearm. "She stated that she still loved Chris Thomas and that they were planning to be married. She also told us, in no uncertain terms, that she had killed her own mother but that Chris had taken the rap for it because he loved her so much," Carli said.
Thomas' lawyers filed a clemency petition with Gilmore and met with his representatives last week. In an unusually long statement, the governor denied clemency last night, saying Thomas' responsibility under the law "is not diminished because of legal protections afforded his 14-year-old accomplice." "Indeed, in a society where the incidence of youth violence has increased, we must continue to demand complete accountability for such terrible crimes," Gilmore said.
Thomas' lawyers also filed an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court that contends an international treaty, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, signed by the United States prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders. The lawyers said the United States signed the treaty but noted an exception to Article 6 that bars such executions. They said it is the position of the Thomas defense team that the United States can't object to part of the treaty and honor the rest of it. However, the justices turned down the appeal late yesterday.
Thomas' execution, along with the planned execution of another juvenile offender in Virginia on Thursday, has drawn much protest. Those writing to Gilmore urging clemency include the American Bar Association, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, the European Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville. But Dianne Clements, president of the pro-death penalty group Justice For All in Houston, said, "The United States does not execute juveniles. The United States does allow execution of individuals who committed their crime at 16."
Virginia has executed only one other juvenile offender since 1977, Dwayne Allen Wright, 26, on Oct. 14, 1998. Wright was 17 when he killed Saba Tekle on Oct. 13, 1989. Traylor said Thomas did not want the contents of his last meal released to the public. Thomas spent part of yesterday visiting with his mother and the clergy at the Greensville Correctional Center, where executions are conducted, Traylor said.