UPDATE: Shaurn was released from prison on May 23, 2017. The Philadelphia District Attorney agreed to vacate his conviction when they uncovered 36 pages of witness statements that had never been provided before. Those statements point to viable alternative perpetrators of the murder without mentioning Shaurn. Shaurn is now home with his fiance, mother, children, and supporting family. Welcome home, Shaurn!
THE CASE: Domingo Martinez was murdered on the morning of November 13, 1990, while delivering $25,000 to one of his check-cashing stores in Northeast Philadelphia. When Martinez was murdered, Shaurn Thomas was in juvenile court in Center City, having been arrested the night before for attempting to steal a motorcycle. Although he was nowhere near the scene of the murder, four years later Shaurn was convicted of having participated in the Martinez murder. Shaurn is still serving the life sentence he received after his conviction.
The night before the murder, on November 12, 1990, at about 11:30 p.m., Shaurn Thomas was arrested in Philadelphia for attempted theft of a motorcycle. Shaurn was held in police custody until sometime around dawn November 13, 1990, when his mother came to the station and signed for his release. Shaurn and his mother then went straight to the Youth Study Center on the Parkway for an intake interview at 9:00 a.m. After the interview, Shaurn signed a subpoena and was released. His sister had to come get him, and they both arrived home sometime in the afternoon of November 13, 1990.
That same morning, Domingo Martinez picked up $25,000 cash from a Mellon Bank branch at Ridge and Spring Garden Streets in Philadelphia. Numerous witnesses said that at about 9:55 a.m., at 6th and Lehigh, a car driving behind Martinez struck Martinez’s car on the driver’s side. When Martinez stopped his car, three men got out of the striking vehicle. One of the men shot Martinez through his car’s front windshield. Witnesses told police that the shooter then pulled Martinez from his car, left him on the street, and drove the victim’s car away. The other two men climbed back into the striking car and drove away. At least four people witnessed the murder. They described the striking car as white on the bottom and red on top. None of the witnesses was ever asked to identify Shaurn or any of the other alleged participants or the car that was supposedly used in the crime. None of the eyewitnesses testified at Shaurn’s trial.
Early in 1991, Philadelphia Police Homicide investigators got a tip from an unknown source that Domingo Martinez was killed by a gang of young men known as the “G-Boys” who lived in Abbotsford Homes, a public housing project in North Philadelphia. On February 8, 1991, police took a blue 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic into custody, thinking it was the car used in the Martinez murder, even though every witness had described the car as white and red.
On February 8, 1992, Nathaniel Stallworth, who had open criminal cases and sought favorable treatment from police and prosecutors, provided a detailed statement to Homicide detectives concerning the Martinez murder. Nathaniel Stallworth claimed that six men—Clayton “Mustafa” Thomas, Clayton’s brother Shaurn Thomas, Nathaniel Stallworth’s own cousins, John and William Stallworth, and two “unknown males”—were the ones who robbed and killed Domingo Martinez.
On October 27, 1992, Nathaniel’s cousin John Stallworth was arrested on an unrelated robbery charge. In attempting to obtain the best outcome for himself, John Stallworth told police that he had information on the Martinez murder. Like his cousin Nathaniel, John Stallworth told police that six men, including him, committed the crime. But, unlike his cousin, he named different men. According to John Stallworth, the perpetrators were himself, his brother William Stallworth, Mustafa and Shaurn Thomas, Louis Gay, and a man named “Nasir.” John Stallworth told police that they drove in two cars, a blue four-door car and a gray four-door car, when they robbed Martinez. He claimed that Louis Gay entered the bank and returned a short time later following Domingo Martinez. The two cars followed Martinez. Somewhere in North Philadelphia, the gray car, with Shaurn Thomas in the back seat, cut in front of Martinez’s car to box it in. Mustafa, driving the blue car, rammed into Martinez’s car then walked up to the driver’s side of the victim’s car and shot Martinez.
Even though police later discovered that Louis Gay was in prison on the day of the murder and could therefore not have participated in the crime, they continued to believe John Stallworth’s version of events. They got a second statement from John Stallworth in July 1993, in which he now claimed that Gay was not involved but that an “unknown friend” of Mustafa Thomas was the sixth man, and the person who had entered the bank initially. John Stallworth agreed to testify against Shaurn and Mustafa Thomas and his brother William and to plead guilty to third degree murder in return for a sentence of eight to sixteen years. On July 29, 1993, police charged Shaurn Thomas with the murder of Domingo Martinez.
Although the information from the Stallworths differed significantly from what police knew from the eyewitnesses, it became the basis for the evidence against Shaurn and his brother Mustafa. Where the witnesses all said there was only one car, the Stallworths said there were two. Where the witnesses all described a white and red car, neither car described by the Stallworth brothers fit that description. Where the witnesses described three men as the perpetrators, the Stallworths claimed there were six.
Arrested three years after the murder, Shaurn had little confirming evidence of where he was at the time of the crime. He had his signed subpoena, but the prosecutor argued to the jury that there was no proof the signature was, in fact, Shaurn’s. The jury never heard from Shaurn’s mother or his sister or the court administrator who worked with his family that fateful day. On December 19, 1994, Shaurn Thomas was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life without parole. He was 20 years old.
In August 2011, James Figorski, a lawyer at the firm of Dechert LLP and a former Philadelphia police officer, filed a a PCRA petition on Mr. Thomas’s behalf with The Pennsylvania Innocence Project as co-counsel. The petition is pending assignment to a judge.