Edward Lee Thomas

Edward Lee Thomas outside the Cochise County courthouse in March. Thomas was sentenced to 51 years in prison on Monday.

BISBEE — An 82-year-old Hereford man was handcuffed in a courtroom Friday and taken into custody after a jury convicted him of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in 2005 and 2006.

Edward Lee Thomas stood motionless as a clerk read off a verdict of guilty in each of three counts of child molestation lodged against him. The charges stem from offenses that occurred between September 2005 and March 2006 when Thomas molested the minor on three separate occasions.

Two of the incidents occurred at the girl’s residence and one occurred at Thomas’ house while his wife was home, the victim testified.

Surrounded by family and friends, the victim, now 24, shook and cried in the courtroom Friday afternoon after the verdict was read.

She and her loved ones applauded members of the jury as they filed out of the courtroom. At least two jurors shook the victim’s hands. A female juror was visibly upset, crying as she left.

The Herald/Review is not naming the victim due to the sensitive nature of the case.

The trial, which took four days, was a vortex of emotions that included anger, sadness, and the victim’s memories of a horrible experience suffered when she was 10.

She testified that one of the assaults injured her to the point that she could not ride her bicycle or her horses.

“I’ve been waiting for this day since the first time he touched me,” the victim said in the lobby area outside of the courtroom.

The closing arguments of both attorneys were compelling.

Deputy County Attorney Yancey Garner, using a big-screen TV in the courtroom to illustrate his case, recounted the entire matter for jurors, including why the case was delayed from the time it was reported by the victim in 2007, until Thomas was indicted by a grand jury in August 2019.

Garner compared the victim to a brick wall that had been built with strong evidence.

Thomas’s lawyer Roger Contreras tried to shake the prosecution’s case by telling jurors that there was plenty of reasonable doubt in the evidence that had been presented by the victim, as well as by a now-retired Cochise County Sheriff’s detective who handled the case and two other women who testified they that they also had been victimized by the octogenarian.

The cases of the other two women were never prosecuted, but Garner said he wanted them to testify so he could show the jury that Thomas has a “predisposition for aberrant sexual behavior.”

While Garner zeroed in repeatedly on Thomas’s confession when the defendant was interviewed by retired Sheriff’s Detective Ursula Ritchie in 2009, Contreras hammered away at that interview, saying Thomas had never actually confessed to touching the victim inappropriately.

“Did Ed ever say, ‘I intentionally touched (the victim)?’” Contreras asked jurors. “Did he ever say, ‘I touched (her) genitals?’ You have to listen carefully to that and wonder was that really a confession?”

But after two and a half hours of deliberations and no questions from the panel, Thomas was convicted of all three counts of molestation of a child. According to Arizona law, Thomas faces a minimum of 10 years in prison, and could face longer, per the judge's discretion, prosecutors said.

His sentencing is scheduled before Dickerson on April 13.

Jurors were at rapt attention, notebooks in hand, when the victim was on the stand Wednesday and Thursday. She recounted each act and where it occurred, stopping often to compose herself. She testified about how she would try to block out what was being done to her, while it was happening.

“I would think about my math homework, or something else,” she said. “One time I closed my eyes and he told me to open them. I opened them thinking that if I did, it would stop.”

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 are also not being named by the Herald/Review.

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.”

Thomas did not testify at the trial. The defense called one witness, a longtime friend of Thomas’ whose testimony was intended to question the victim’s testimony, rather than vouch for Thomas’ character.

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.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Thomas' possible sentence.

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