The Galveston County Daily News

Copyright © 2005 The Galveston County Daily News
‘They Were Screaming’
By Scott E. Williams
Published December 13, 2005
TEXAS CITY — The second week of trial for a man charged with murdering his grandparents
began with jurors hearing from the defendant via a taped statement he made to investigators.
Thomas Justin “T.J.” Thomas was 17 on Feb. 11, 2004, when he described to detectives how
another teen coerced him into beating his grandparents to death in their home hours earlier.
Thomas, on the tape, said he kicked in the back door of grandparents William and Pearl
Clement’s home in the 1200 block of Third Avenue South and then dealt with the elderly
couple.
“My grandparents started yelling, and I started hitting them. I have no idea why,” Thomas
said, sobbing. “They were screaming, and I started hitting them. I’m so sorry.”
Defense attorney Tad Nelson worked to establish that Thomas’ lack of mental acumen kept
him from understanding both his right to remain silent and many of the questions he was
asked.
In cross-examining Texas Ranger Joe Haralson, who conducted the interview, Nelson quizzed
him about a period of questioning that was not taped, suggesting that investigators prodded
answers out of the teen.
In questioning Haralson, County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk suggested that
Thomas did understand his rights and the questions asked of him.
Dozens of family members sat in the courtroom during testimony Monday. During Thomas’
taped account of the Clements’ deaths, some of them stared straight ahead, some cried and
some hung their heads.
In the taped interview, Thomas blamed co-defendant Daniel Robert Northrup for involving
him in the scheme. Thomas said that they had been trying to find ways to get money so they
could go to Dimitri’s Cabaret, a strip club on the Gulf Freeway.
But Thomas said his only answer was “yes” when Northrup suggested killing his grandparents and taking valuables from their home.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing?,’ but I couldn’t control my head,” Thomas said.
Police pulled over a van containing Thomas, Northrup and two other teens half a block away
from the Clement home, just as their daughter, Thomas’ mother, was calling 9-1-1 after
discovering their bloody bodies.
Inside the van was a rifle belonging to Mr. Clement, his wallet, his wife’s purse and a small
container with change inside.
Because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, a guilty verdict in this case would
mean an automatic life sentence for Thomas.
Daniel Robert Northrup, 19; Eric Lee Kilman, 21; and Christine Marie Cox, 21; also face
capital murder charges in the case. Thomas is the first to go to trial.
Testimony in the trial continues today.