BISBEE — A child molestation case dormant for more than a decade because of a lack of evidence and mistakes made by the Cochise County Attorney's office was reopened last year and the defendant, now 82, is being tried in superior court.
Edward Lee Thomas is charged with three counts of child molestation, a 2019 indictment shows. The charges stem from three separate incidents between September 2005 and March 2006 when the victim was 10 years old, court records show.
"We're here to discuss a crime that occurred to a female who was under the age of 15," Cochise County Deputy County Attorney Yancey Garner told the 12-member jury on the second day of Thomas' trial Wednesday. "You'll also hear from two other women who were touched by the defendant."
Now 24, the woman — she is not being named because the Herald/Review does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse — described each assault in vivid detail on the witness stand in Cochise County Superior Judge Timothy Dickerson's courtroom.
As she recounted each act and where it occurred, the woman had to stop a handful of times to compose herself. Jurors were at rapt attention as she spoke, notebooks in hand.
The victim claimed Thomas fondled her genitals on three separate occasions, twice at her home, and once at his home while his wife was in the house, the victim said.
She said that on the third occasion, she was injured by Thomas and could no longer ride horses comfortably. She said Thomas often gave her $20 and admonished her about telling anyone what had occurred between them.
"He would give me money and told me, 'Good girls don't tell,' " the victim said.
Two other women, now in their early 30s, also testified that Thomas assaulted them. They're also not being named by the Herald/Review even though their names were publicized in the trial. One of the women stated that she taped a telephone conversation between her and Thomas when she was 15, because she felt it was the only way her mother would believe her story. That tape was played in the courtroom Wednesday. Jurors also were given a transcript of the telephone conversation.
"I wanted to get him to tell me what he would do to me," the woman said. "I would give that to my mom as proof. I wanted proof."
That same victim also became visibly emotional on the witness stand when she first sat down and saw Thomas.
"I thought he had died," she said. "I hate him."
The statements made by the two older women are not part of the charges Thomas is being tried on, Garner said, but their testimony was presented to demonstrate to the jury, "Thomas' propensity for aberrant sexual behavior," Garner said.
The case against Thomas would not have come to light, and much less to trial, if the victim had not inquired about the status of the incident in 2018, Garner said. That's because when the youngster finally told her mother what happened in 2007, the mother did not call police. The victim's 19-year-old sister, though — who also testified against Thomas on Wednesday — had a roommate call the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, Garner said.
The then-10-year-old was interviewed in 2007 by a sheriff's office detective. Their talk was videotaped, Garner said. But the taped interview was attached to the wrong case, and in 2008 the Cochise County Attorney's Office erroneously had the tape destroyed by police, Garner said. At that point, the case against Thomas fell dormant, Garner told jurors.
Coincidentally, in 2009, Thomas and his wife called the sheriff's office after they were victimized in a scam, Garner said. Ursula Ritchie, the same detective who had interviewed the victim in 2007 and videotaped it, responded to Thomas' residence to investigate the scam incident. Ritchie was accompanied by another detective, Garner said.
As Ritchie questioned Thomas about the scam, she suddenly switched her interview and asked him about the claims the victim had made against him in 2007.
"The defendant actually confessed," Garner said. "But at the time, the case wasn't active and his confession languished. The victim's mother had no interest in pursuing the case."
About a decade later, in 2018, the victim, then 22, began asking about the case and she learned that there is no statute of limitations on such offenses, Garner said.
"Thomas' confession comes out and the case is revived," Garner said.
Thomas was indicted by a grand jury in August 2019. He was charged with three counts of molestation of a child.
The trial resumed at 8:30 a.m. Thursday when Thomas' attorney, Roger Contreras, continued his questioning of the victim.