After two days of testimony from experts, family members, neighbors and law enforcement, jurors convicted Thomas Francis of malice murder for the 2006 fatal shooting of his wife, Shelly Francis, swiftly delivering their verdict after about an hour of deliberation Thursday in Newton County Superior Court.
He was found guilty of all 11 counts against him, including one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, five counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, one count of family violence battery and one count of obstruction of an emergency call, for the Oct. 31, 2006 shooting at their Social Circle home.
As the verdict was read, the defendent's family members flinched and some began to sob quietly.
Attorney Alvin Leaphart, representing Thomas Francis, said the family had no comment. "We're just disappointed in the verdict and plan to appeal," he said.
Gloria Parnell, Shelly's mother, also had tears in her eyes a she left the courtroom. She said some of Thomas's family had offered their condolences in recent days during the trial. "This is justice for Shelly, but this is heartbreaking for his family," she said.
In that morning's closing arguments, the defense painted Thomas as a good but broken man who was a victim of Battered Person Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering ongoing verbal and emotional abuse that put him in a state of mind where he feared for his safety.
"What makes a good dog turn mean?" asked Leaphart. "You abuse it, terrorize it. One day, something bad's going to happen," he said. "But for the abuse, we wouldn't be here."
He pointed out that Thomas, 63, an electrician and former deputy, had no history of violence. The abuse he endured, along with the lack of anti-anxiety medication, which Shelly, 52, had reportedly disposed of, clouded his mind with fear, Leaphart argued. He brought up incidents that allegedly occurred months before the shooting, where Shelly cut his arm with a kitchen knife, threw a hammer at him, threw a flower pot and threatened to cut him like Lorena Bobbitt. The defense alleged Thomas never mentioned these events to anyone because he was ashamed, as a man, to be the victim of abuse.
"His fear was reasonable based on the warped state of mind he was put into," said Leaphart.
He addressed a knife found near Shelly's body that had blood underneath it but no blood on it that the prosecution argued Thomas planted to bolster a self-defense justification. Leaphart said in the confusion after the shooting, first responders could have accidentally moved or kicked it but would be reluctant to admit doing so.
In the prosecution's closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey recognized Battered Person Syndrome and PTSD were real syndromes. But this situation did not fit the bill, she said, and to claim that it did insulted those who were truly suffering from PTSD or BPS, such as combat veterans returning from Iraq, abused children and victims of events such as the Olympic park bombing.
She acknowledged the degrading names Shelly had reportedly called Thomas. "But torturous emotional abuse which caused a dissociative state?" she asked the jury. "Come on."
Even going with Thomas's version of events and self-defense plea, he was still guilty of murder, she said. The killing shot to the head could not have been done before Shelly made the call to 911, she pointed out.
But more telling was the act of kicking Shelly after she was shot, McCrorey said to the jury.
She described a situation where Thomas, fed up with Shelly's harassment, decided to take revenge with "cold, calculated murder."
"Somebody's mad, somebody's angry. 'It's come to a head,' as he said. He's going to shut her up once and for all," she said.
She described how he came into the room with his 9mm Glock handgun "racked" and ready to shoot. The first shots went through her mouth and chest, said McCrorey. He left the room but came back in when he heard her on the phone with 911, pleading for help. He took the phone from her, kicked her, yanked out the cord, and fired the fatal shot to the head.
During the three minutes while 911 tried to call back, McCrorey proposed he was thinking up a plausible defense and planted the knife in the room.
"I suggest to you there is only one verdict that will speak the truth, that will deliver justice. That is guilty on each and every count," she said to the jury.
While the first day of trial on Tuesday heard much testimony about physical evidence, the second day of the trial on Wednesday looked at psychological evaluations as well as testimony from family, neighbors, and co-workers called by the defense about the fraught, five-year marriage between Shelly and Thomas.
Neighbors described how Shelly would verbally degrade Thomas, while he would hang his head silently.
Thomas's sister, Joy Carter, said he came in to talk completely distraught. "I've never seen a male cry and sob like this," she said. "He cried for hours. He was devastated."
The court also heard more than an hour of the recorded interview of Thomas conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations right after the shooting. During the interview, Thomas returned repeatedly to how Shelly would keep "on and on" and "wouldn't let things go."
"She made mountains out of molehills," he said to the GBI agent, ruefully. "I hated her, but I was trying to get out of it. And I shot her. That's all there was to it."
Thomas Francis himself also came up to the stand, sometimes seeming confused, occasionally stuttering, looking down in concentration and leaning forward to hear.
When McCrorey asked why he didn't just leave the house, he said he would have had to move his things and his tools.
He testified he thought something might happen to him that day because he overheard Shelly engaged in an "unfriendly" conversation on the cell phone that morning that he couldn't make out but aroused his suspicions. He claimed Shelly jumped up and grabbed the knife when she saw the gun in his hand, a story that changed slightly under questioning about forensic evidence suggesting she was shot while sitting down.
When asked why he sounded so calm when he answered the 911 call, he said he knew the law was coming for him. "I was just trying to bring it to a head and get it over with," he said. "I figured the worst thing I could be charged with was self-defense."
Dr. Marti Loring, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and director of the Center for Mental Health and Human Development who studies trauma in victims, evaluated Thomas upon the defense's request and testified that, in her opinion, he suffered from Battered Person Syndrome and PTSD.
"What can happen, when you have PTSD strong and severe enough, you're not thinking," she said. "Their cognitive abilities are broken. All they're doing is panicking."
She said a set of evaluative tools concluded he was not malingering or faking his answers. "I couldn't find that quality of 'he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to cover it up,'" she said.
Dr. Andrea Elkhon, a forensic psychologist at Georgia Regional Hospital, was comissioned by the courts to evaluate Thomas, after the state's request, for insanity and competency and found him sane and fit to stand trial.
"It is my opinion that Thomas Francis did understand right from wrong at the time of the alleged incident," she said.
The sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 14 in the 9:30 a.m. calendar.