Two of the four Redmond teens who pleaded guilty to their roles in the brutal beating and killing of Barbara Thomas in March 2001 ago took the stand Wednesday as prosecution witnesses at the last defendant’s murder trial, laying much of the blame for the events of that fateful day on 19-year-old Justin Link.
Lucretia Karle, who turned 18 after February’s guilty plea, and Ashley Summers, now 17, were subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at the trial of Link. Agreements to testify at any future trials were part of the plea agreements reached with the victim’s son, Adam Thomas, now 20; and Seth Koch, now 17, who admitted firing the fatal rifle shot on March 26, 2001 at the Thomas home on the Old Bend-Redmond Highway.
Karle, wearing blue jeans, a white navel-baring blouse and leg and waist shackles, began her testimony speaking much as a typical teen would about how the five had gotten together, sprinkled with candid remarks about their alcohol and marijuana use at the time. But later, she stared at the table in the witness stand, barely making eye contact, as she talked in monotone fashion of the climactic, grisly sequence of events.
Link has waived his right to a jury trial, and his fate will be decided by Deschutes County Circuit Judge Alta Brady, at the end of a trial expected to last three to four weeks.
Under questioning by Deputy District Kandy Gies, Karle, who has begun serving a 25-year prison term at the state’s Hillcrest Youth Facility in Salem, explained her guilty plea: “I took responsibility for my actions in the murder of Barbara Thomas,” whose car the teens stole for a failed getaway to Canada, leading to their arrest at the border the following day.
She said she had gotten together with Thomas and Link days earlier because “I needed drug money, and wanted to go and buy drugs.” She talked of hanging out with the others at two Redmond motels during that spring break, and that the boys didn’t have alcohol – instead, “they were drinking cough syrup.”
“That was talk that the boys – Adam, Justin and Seth, were going to go to Canada,” Karle said. “They threw around the idea that pot was legal in Canada.”
Asked to go to Canada, teen says: `Sure’
Gies showed Karle a silver 9-mm handgun that she had seen at the motel, and the teen later told of sneaking out her window to get together with her friends, getting home early Sunday, the 25th, and going to sleep. She said the four “came to my house, in my room, waking me up. They asked me if I wanted to go to Canada, and I said, `Sure.’”
They spent the night at Haystack Reservoir, sleeping in the Cadillac that Koch had taken from his home without permission. The keys to that car became missing after the five teens arrived at the Thomas house to eat and clean up, and that prompted a search which Karle said turned into a trashing of the place – at Justin’s direction. They also found “hunting guns” at the home, she said, and threw a safe on the rocks outside to break it open.
When the keys didn’t turn up, Link “wasn’t very happy. He was kind of grouchy. … He snapped at everybody,” Karle said. And later, she recalled, he said “Barbara Thomas had to be killed because the house was turned upside down.” She said he told the four that “it didn’t look like” they had been searching for the car keys, then pulled out a kitchen drawer, turned it upside down and dumped the contents on the floor.
Link, who generally had stared at his notepad since the start of the trial, watched Karle throughout her testimony, and she glanced at him, but only occasionally.
Just one room didn’t get trashed – “Adam’s room,” she said. “Nobody really went into his room.”
A car with two boys and two girls pulled up in a bit, and one of the teens apparently got a pair of sandals that Link had, she said.
After they left, “we were sitting around the family room, and there was talk about, um, killing Barbara Thomas,” Karle recalled. It was the first time she’d heard that.
Minutes later, she said, Link handed her a gun. “First, he asked me if I could hold it,” she said. “Then, he told me that if somebody would come up the driveway and it not be him, to shoot them.”
“I told him I wasn’t going to shoot anybody,” she recalled. “He (Link) said, `You will if you have to.’ I said, `Whatever.’”
“I’d asked, `Who would come up the driveway?’ And he said, `Adam’s mom,’” Karle said.
Teens’ talk turns to methods of murder
Karle also said it was Link who had emptied two or three wine bottles in the kitchen sink, for use in clubbing the victim over the head. Karle said they were talking about “ways to kill Adam’s mom.”
“Do you remember whose idea it was?” the prosecutor asked. “Justin,” Karle replied. “He didn’t want to get in trouble for the house getting messed up.”
“He said Barbara was supposed to be hit over the head with the wine bottles,” she said.
“He, who?” Gies asked.
“Justin,” Karle replied, adding that Adam Thomas and Koch were the ones supposed to do it.”
Other ideas emerged, she said, as Adam mentioned setting the house on fire. “He mixed some gunpowder in a little thing, and we lit it on fire,” she said.
“There was an idea to inject her with bleach,” Karle said, adding that it was Summers’ idea.
“There was an idea to put her in the bathtub and electrocute her,” the teen said. Asked whose idea that was, Karle replied: “Mine.”
“It was said that if all else failed, they’d shoot her,” Karle said – and when Gies asked, “Who gave that idea?” she said, “Justin.”
Karle said everyone was involved in the discussion. Gies asked if anyone got up and said, “I don’t want any part of this?” “No,” Karle replied, her head slightly tilted, looking down.
Teen recounts fateful, deadly moments
Later, preparations were made for the bleach idea, and the electrocution as well, with heavy electrical cords and a hairdryer and radio plugged in. “I turned on the water, and I didn’t know how to plug up the bathtub, and Adam did it,” she said.
A bit later, Link went outside – but Karle said that was after the planning for a murder, as well as the steps to carry out that step. He had been outside 15 or 20 minutes when Barbara Thomas returned home. Her son and Koch “had gone back to their spots,” Karle said, while she and Summers went behind Adam’s bed in his room, able to look out the window.
When she entered, “she asked who was here,” Karle said. “She asked (Koch) where her son was.”
“How did she sound?” Gies said. “Scared,” Karle said. “She said, `What’s going on here?’ She kept asked where Adam was.”
Koch was first to hit her over the head, then her son. “Do you know how many times Barbara Thomas was hit?” the prosecutor asked. “No,” Karle said, as a woman in the courtroom’s second row broke into tears.
“She screamed and fell to the floor, and asked him to stop,” Karle said, asking, “Why are you doing this? And when she was on the ground, they were kicking her … Adam and Seth.”
The victim made it to the porch at one point, and Karle said she could hear all three boys talking. “She was asking for help,” but got none, Karle said.
And she said Link had asked, “Why isn’t she dead yet?” and, “Better get the gun.” Someone also said, “Get her back in the house.” Karle peeked around the corner and could see the woman on the ground, “in a bad condition. They said she was unconscious for a second.” (Later, after cross-examination, Karle said Koch or Adam Thomas later told her, as they drove toward Canada, that Link had said to “finish her off,” and she hadn’t heard that herself.)
Later, with Barbara Thomas back in the house, she saw the woman’s son pointing a rifle, and say: “Keep your eyes closed.”
“She said, `Don’t shoot me,’ and he said, `I won’t, if you keep your eyes closed,’” Karle recalled, in soft, monotone voice, her eyes downcast.
“Adam told Seth that he wouldn’t do it,” she said, so “Seth took the gun, aimed it and shot her. The gun went off.” She went out of the bedroom, and saw “Adam’s mom, laying on the floor.”
“Somehow, the door got opened, and I walked out, and there was Justin … out by the car,” Karle replied, recalling some of his words: “It’s all over.” But he also “said stuff I can’t remember,” she said.
Link played key role, teen says
Karle said she told Link she wasn’t going back in the house, so he said to start moving things from the Cadillac to the woman’s Honda. Others took items from the house, including alcohol and guns. Koch said the victim was lying on his jacket, “so Justin went in there and grabbed it.” The coat later was burned when the group stopped on the first part of their trip.
“Justin told Seth he’d done a good job by not leaving the shell” from the fatal bullet,” Karle said. “If the shell was released, the cops would be able to tell where the person was standing” when the shot was fired. (They later threw the shell over a cliff, she said.)
Link wanted Adam Thomas to drive, but “he couldn’t drive because he was crying, so Justin drove,” Karle said. And she said Justin said something about Koch being “like a brother” to him, “because he shot somebody and killed them. … I observed it as a compliment.”
Later Wednesday, prosecutor Gies asked Karle what mood Justin was in that day, more specifically when he said “Barbara Thomas had to be killed.” She replied that he “had a weird look to himself – not his normal look.”
Defense lawyer Thomas Howes objected when Gies asked, “Who was in control at Barbara Thomas’s house?” Brady sustained the objection, so instead, the prosecutor asked who said which plans for the murder would work or not work. “Justin,” Karle answered.
Howes asked in his final cross-examination what Karle’s mood had been that day. “Pretty lazy,” due to lack of sleep, she said. “Later, when you were making plans” to kill Barbara Thomas? “Quiet. Scared,” Karle said. And later, after the murder? “Scared,” she repeated.
“Were you scared of Adam?” Howes asked. “Everybody,” Karle said. Asked of the others’ moods, she didn’t know, regarding Summers, but used one word to describe the victim’s son and Seth Koch: “Rage.”
Second teen also points finger of blame
Summers then took the stand Wednesday afternoon, and gave a similar reason for why she had pleaded guilty: “Because I had a part in it (the killing).”
In comments echoing her post-sentencing interview with bend.com/the Bend Bugle (bendbugle.com/?p=8026), Summers said she ran away from home a day before the murder because “I wanted to party all the time. I didn’t want to live by my dad’s rules.”
As for the crucial discussion at the Thomas home, Gies asked, “Who was it who stated, we’re going to have to kill Barbara Thomas?” Summers said Link had said that “tying her up and knocking her out wasn’t going to work,” if they wanted to get her car.
“Who was it who suggested that she needed to be killed?” Gies repeated. “Justin,” Summers replied. “Did he say how?” the prosecutor asked. “I don’t think so,” the teen responded.
“Justin at some point said he couldn’t be seen in the house,” and would leave, but didn’t say why, according to Summers. While Karle said Link emptied the wine bottles, Summers said “the boys” did so, and that Koch brought extension cords in from the garage for use in the electrocution scheme.
Summers told basically the same story of the attack after Barbara Thomas returned home. He said Koch handed the victim’s son a rifle he’d taken out of the Cadillac’s trunk. Like Karle, she said Adam had motioned for the two girls to come out of his bedroom, but that they shook their head now.
When Koch took the gun and aimed through the rifle scope, “I put my head down,” Summers said. “I know I heard it go off.” Summers said Karle immediately ran out of the house, and she followed, seeing Link “standing out by the trees, beyond the porch.”
Other elements came out in Summers’ testimony – for example, how they all had tried to call in and activate a credit card stolen from the Thomas home, to no avail, during their trip north.
The teens “at first were really quiet, Summers said Koch later “said he was a heartless bastard,” presumably a comment to Link. “Justin said, `I’m sorry you girls had to see that,’ and Adam and Seth said they were sorry.” As for the fact they were wanted now, “someone said shoot the cops,” Summers said, and Koch said if they were stopped, he would race away, then come to a fast stop, and “anyone who wanted to live could get out of the car.”
Defense attorney Cindy Spencer asked what Summers knew of the relationship between Karle and Adam Thomas. “They were what we call `friends with benefits’ – sleeping together, making out with each other,” she said. And she said they even wanted to get married, after they were arrested.
But during the cross-examination, Summers also gave a differing view on Link’s role in the discussions: “Justin talked a little before he left, but he wasn’t involved for most of it.”
Summers said she talked to Link one of his calls from a cell phone as he walked around on the property.
“I just told him I was scared,” she recalled. Asked by Spencer why she didn’t leave, Summers said, “I wasn’t scared of Justin. I was scared of Adam and Seth. … If Adam was going to kill his mom, why wouldn’t he kill someone he didn’t even know?”
Also, while Karle and Summers had both been hiding in Adam’s bedroom, Summers – unlike Karle – said she couldn’t hear what was going on when Barbara Thomas made it out to the porch.
On her redirect questions, prosecutor Gies got Summers to repeat that Link was the first person to say the woman had to be killed. “As far as I know, it was Justin,” she said. “Then everybody else got into it.”
“Who was the guy in charge, telling people what to do?” Gies said, a question to which Spencer objected, arguing it was “beyond the scope” of Summers’ knowledge. Brady overruled the objection, so Summers answered the question: “Justin.”
During final questioning by defense lawyer Spencer, Summers acknowledged that at first she had thought the talk of killing Barbara Thomas was a joke. But when it continued, after the visitors left the home, “That’s when I began to get scared, and realized they weren’t kidding any more.”