Halfway house victim was starting new life

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SAGINAW (WJRT) - (01/27/17) - A friend of the man killed in a Saginaw halfway house Monday night is speaking out about the death of Demarlon Thomas and the new life he was trying to start.

Pastor Ronnie Bryant says 31-year-old Thomas had paid his debt to society and was ready to start over again by moving away from Saginaw, but he wasn't able to get out of the city.

“He graduated from high school, played football at Saginaw High School.” said Pastor Bryant

Demarlon Thomas also played college football in Minnesota. When that didn’t work out, he came back to Saginaw.
Thomas ended up getting in trouble and went to prison for drug trafficking. He was set to be released on March 22nd after former President Obama shortened his prison sentence.

Pastor Ronnie Bryant says Thomas was excited for the second chance and could have gone to any residential re-entry center in the country. He says Thomas planned on eventually living in Washington, D.C., but decided to come back to Saginaw and the Bannum Place halfway house in December.

“He wanted to come home, to his grandma, because his grandmother is ill, so this is where he decided to come.” said Pastor Bryant.

Thomas was at the halfway house for about 40 days when two masked gunmen entered the building Monday night and shot him to death.
“He was calling a lot of people everyday, to let them know that he loved them, he cared about them, and he was trying to get things together. So we were blind sided by this.” said Pastor Bryant.

Bryant is also upset at how people are questioning the commutation of Thomas's prison sentence.

“National news stations are trying to make Obama look bad for the pardon. They are trying to make him look like a so-called ‘gangster’, and that was not him.”

Bryant is asking the same question that police and many others are asking, how did the gunmen get into the building with relative ease?

“He was in the building, he was in the building, that is supposed to protect him, and they failed him.”

Bryant planned on taking Thomas to the Michigan State-Purdue basketball game on Tuesday, the day after the shooting.

“He was a law abiding citizen upon his return, trying to get his life back together, and it was snuffed out.”

Demarlon Thomas's funeral is Tuesday January 31st. Police say they do have some leads on possible suspects as the investigation into his death continues.

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(01/26/17) - It was bound to happen - that's the reaction from a former worker at the Saginaw halfway house where a man was murdered Monday night as two masked men walked into the place.

The man says the company that runs the facility cuts corners on everything from security to equipment. He says he was fired in 2014 because he complained about how the halfway house was being operated.

The surveillance video at the Bannum Place of Saginaw residential re-entry center shows the two men with assault weapons open the door - a door that should be locked.

The former employee has a theory on how the men entered the building with such ease.

“Probably someone had come in and the door didn't close all the way,” he said.

The man says the only other way they could get in is if someone inside the building opened the door for them.

The surveillance video shows one of the gunmen in the building. They eventually shot 31-year-old Demarlon Thomas, who was preparing to be released from federal custody on March 22 after former President Barack Obama shortened his prison sentence.

The former employee, who does not want to be identified, wasn't surprised to hear the execution-style murder happened in the building.

“I wondered why it took so long, with what was happening, it didn't surprise me at all that it happened,” he said.

The man says he made $11.85 an hour working as a counselor assistant, a position he described as a guard.

He says the company that runs the facility, Bannum Place, which is based in Florida, is too cost-conscious in running the center. He believes there would have been three staff members there the night of the shooting, but sometimes there has been just one.

“I didn't feel safe with that many people around, particularly when I had to work by myself,” he said.

Inmates are tested for drugs and alcohol when they re-enter the building, but alcohol would at times end up in the building.

“We found upwards of 30 bottles of booze that were lined up on the table,” the former employee said.

He's worried a shooting like this could happen again.

“Just looked what happened, I don't think that response, you are not paid enough to do that,” he said.

We have attempted to reach Bannum Place by phone in Saginaw and Florida and every time we call, they hang up.

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(01/25/17) - We just received the surveillance video and while the two gunmen are masked, police are hoping someone sees something in their mannerisms that could give them the tip they need.

In the video, you see the two men basically open the door of the facility and go inside. It appears it was not locked, or just left open.

You then see one of the gunman walk into the building.

In another part of the video, one of the gunman is running through the building with an assault weapon in his hand.

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(01/25/17) - The death penalty could be an option for the suspects who made their way into a federal halfway house and killed a man who would soon be free.

The former assistant U.S. prosecutor who handled the case is speaking out. She says there are a number of factors to look at when considering the death penalty, including where this murder took place.

The Michigan State Police were back on the property of Bannum Place of Saginaw, the federal residential re-entry facility where two masked men somehow got in the building with assault weapons and killed 31-year-old Demarlon Thomas, whose prison sentence for drug trafficking was cut short by a commutation from former President Obama.

A drone was taking pictures of the outside of the building.

Thomas had been at the facility since Dec. 13 and was to be released from custody on March 22.

Thomas was one of dozens of Sunny Side gang members arrested in 2008 as part of a federal investigation called Operation Sunset.

“It was a pretty large operation,” said Barb Tanase, who was the assistant United States attorney that helped prosecute the cases.

Tanase retired in 2011, but she believes the murder could be looked at as a possible death penalty case, since it happened in a facility that the federal government is using to house inmates. There are other factors in considering capital punishment.

“If these are people who are involved in a continuous pattern of drug trafficking and homicide and whatever drug traffickers do, that's another means for imposing the death penalty,” she said.

While police have not released a motive for the killing, Tanase speculates it could be gang related, or possibly someone believed Thomas was an informant.

“The fact that his sentence was commuted might suggest he convinced somebody that he gave important information,” she said.

Tanase says she does not remember Thomas giving any information that helped in the investigation.

“I don't recall using any information that he provided, I don't recall ever giving any benefit for the information,” Tanase said.

Police are still looking for suspects.

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(01/24/17) - A man whose prison sentence was recently shortened by former President Barack Obama has been gunned down in a halfway house in Saginaw.

Thirty-one-year-old Demarlon Thomas went to prison in 2008, one of more than 30 defendants in a crackdown on Saginaw's Sunny Side gang.

Police are now trying to find his killers and how they got into the halfway house.

It was back in November when Thomas, along with 79 other federal inmates, had their prison sentences commuted by Obama.

Thomas was convicted of cocaine trafficking and sentenced to at least 18 years in prison in 2008.

A spokesperson with the Bureau of Prisons says Thomas arrived at Bannum Place of Saginaw on Dec. 13 to begin the process of being released. His sentence was set to expire on March 22.

Two masked men with assault rifles somehow got into the residential re-entry center Monday at around 9:40 p.m.

“One armed gunman took approximately 23 people and guarded them, while the other armed man went ahead and looked through the building,” said Lt. Dave Kasier, with the Michigan State Police.

That gunman found Thomas and shot him multiple times. No one else was hurt.

When investigators arrived on scene, a K9 unit lead police to a home several blocks away, but the suspects were not found. Michigan State Police were still at the center several hours later, examining tire prints left in the mud near the facility.

They are still trying to determine how the gunmen got into the building.

“There are many people that obtain jobs and they go do their day job, and go back to this facility in the evening, so I don't know if it's under lock and key or an armed guard,” Kasier said.

Jimmie Davis lives in the area and remembers the controversial opening of the halfway house in 2008, where lawsuits failed to stop its construction. Davis says there hasn't been many problems - until now.

“Some people were for it and some people weren't,” he said. “I have never heard of anything happening like that, I have been across the world, I have never heard anything that extreme.”

Police are not sure if the murder was related to Thomas' prior federal conviction.

“We don't know if it was prior testimony, a rival gang, we just don't know at this point,” Kasier said.

We checked federal court records and it doesn't appear Thomas was given a lighter sentence in exchange for testimony against other individuals in that Sunny Side investigation.

We checked federal court records and it doesn't appear Thomas was given a lighter sentence in exchange for testimony against other individuals in that Sunny Side investigation.



 
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