A 2015 murder case that was dismissed last year by Barton County District Judge Ron Svaty may be opened. The Kansas Court of Appeals recently reversed Svaty’s 2016 ruling that Freddie Alec Thomas could not be tried for murder in the shooting death of Jeremy Alan Saldana in Great Bend.
Svaty had ruled that Thomas acted in self-defense and therefore couldn’t be tried for murder.
The shooting occurred on Sept. 11, 2015, outside the home of John and Marissa Reynolds at 2402 Williams St. Thomas was an Ellsworth Correctional Facility Officer who regularly carried a 9 mm Ruger handgun.
Saldana had dated Marissa Reynolds’ mother, Sherry Murro, in the past, but at that time Murro was dating Thomas.
According to testimony from the preliminary hearing, Thomas and Murro came to Great Bend to spend time with John and Marissa Reynolds. They did not know that Saldana had also been living at the Reynolds’ residence for two years.
Saldana was not there, but according to John Reynolds’s testimony, his wife started receiving texts from Saldana after dinner and she suggested Thomas and Murro should leave before he returned. They packed up their cooler and headed for their vehicle. But soon there were shouts of “He’s coming!” and “He’s here.”
Thomas met Saldana in the yard.
“He’d put on a bullet-proof vest,” John Reynolds testified. Thomas was already wearing a holster containing his Ruger.
Reynolds said he and his wife watched from inside their front door. “There was a little pushing and shoving – hitting,” he said. Saldana was unarmed, and Thomas pushed him away, took a step back, drew his weapon and fired three shots.
Thomas did not resist when an officer arrived. The gun was on the back of a car trunk and he placed his hands behind his back. Medical responders arrived but were unsuccessful in saving Saldana, who died of gunshot wounds.
Detective Sgt. David Paden of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office testified that he interviewed Thomas at length after advising him of his rights.
Thomas told him he’d never met Saldana but had seen a photo of him once. When he heard that Saldana was in Brit Spaugh Park and was headed toward the house, he put on his vest. He told Paden he’d heard Saldana was known to carry weapons and could be violent. He told the detective that Saldana came at him so he drew his gun, which accidentally went off as he pushed Saldana away. But, seeing Saldana still coming at him, Thomas told Paden, he fired two more shots.
After the preliminary hearing, Thomas’s attorney filed his motion to dismiss on a claim of self-defense, which the court granted after a hearing in June 2016.
The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed that decision on Dec. 8.
According to The Hutchinson News, the court found Svaty was in error in finding Thomas was immune from prosecution in the death of Saldana because the judge did not resolve controverted facts in the case in his ruling and he misapplied the law regarding self-defense.
If Thomas was the initial aggressor, as alleged by the state, he could not claim self-defense.
“Given the importance and large number of disputed facts which have not been judicially determined but are critical to a proper resolution of the self-defense question, we have no hesitancy in remanding this matter to the district court,” the appellate justices stated.
“In summary, we conclude there was not sufficient competent evidence to support the district court’s conclusion of law that a reasonable person in Thomas’ circumstances would have perceived the use of deadly force in self-defense as necessary.”
The higher court ordered the case back to the Barton County court with specific directions on what the court needed to consider at an additional evidentiary hearing on the defense’s original motion to dismiss.
Svaty retired from the bench this year, so a new judge will have to take up the issue.