Accused Mobile New Year’s Eve shooter was defending himself, lawyer says

Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 10:10 AM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The man accused of sparking a mass shooting downtown during the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration was defending himself from gunfire, his lawyer said Friday.

Thomas Earl Thomas Jr., 22, appeared virtually for a bond hearing. Mobile County Presiding District Judge Spiro Cheriogotis ordered him temporarily jailed without bail until a hearing under Aniah’s Law next week.

Police allege that Thomas used a gun modified into a machine gun to fatally shooting JaTerious Reives shortly before midnight. Authorities say another man then fired at Thomas, who returned fire. The gunfire exchange injured both, and in the melee, seven innocent bystanders suffered gunshot wounds.

But defense attorney Chase Dearman said outside the courtroom that Thomas fired only after he had been shot at.

“I believe it was self-defense,” he said. “Please, look at my client. Look at my client’s history. He is a good kid. But when it’s your life, your brains are gonna be on the sidewalk, you best better believe you have a right to defend yourself.”

Mobile County District Attorney-elect Keith Blackwood declined to detail the evidence, but he told FOX10 News that the charges are justified and reiterated that additional charges could be added.

“I think what the defendant’s responsible for will ultimately be played out in court,” he said. “But when, you know, we are satisfied, based on the investigation, there’s probable cause for a charge, then we will charge, or a grand jury will indict – if, I should add, they are satisfied.”

Next week, a judge will conduct a preliminary hearing to determine if prosecutors have enough evidence to send the case to a grand jury. At the same time, he will rule on whether prosecutors have met their burden under Aniah’s Law to deny bail pending trial.

A constitutional amendment approved by voters in November, Aniah’s Law gives judge discretion to deny bail on a wide range of serious offenses. So far, though, no judge in Mobile County has granted the state’s request in an Aniah’s Law case.

The judge ordered prosecutors to give the defense investigative documents in the case and provide a list of all of the physical evidence.

“They’re talking about locking somebody up with not so much as anything but a bond hearing,” Dearman said. “I don’t know how it’s constitutional.”

Updated at 12:13 p.m. with comments from Mobile County District Attorney-elect Keith Blackwood.


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