On September 15, 1993, 29-year-old Teresa Thomas fatally shot her live-in boyfriend, Jerry "Jake" Flowers, in their trailer on Tick Ridge, an unpaved road in northeastern Athens County, Ohio.
Thomas told police that she shot Flowers, 40, in self-defense after he physically attacked her. She said that the shooting came after she had endured months of violence and intimidation.
Thomas was arrested and charged with murder. In December 1993, she went on trial before a jury in Athens County Court of Common Pleas.
The prosecution presented witnesses who said that Flowers had a peaceful disposition and was not known as violent to Thomas.
Thomas testified that she and Flowers had known each other for most of their lives, but only began dating in 1991. In July 1993, they moved into a new mobile home together.
Thomas said that their relationship was marked by violence, including one incident where Flowers pushed her into a wall so hard she had to go to a hospital emergency room for treatment and another where he punched her in the abdomen, causing an ovarian cyst to rupture.
Thomas said that Flowers controlled their money and ordered her to quit her two jobs. She said he did all the grocery shopping except for two occasions when he allowed her to go requiring her to bring him the receipt and exact change.
At times, Thomas said, Flowers refused to allow her to eat for as long as three or four days. She said he periodically raped her.
Three weeks before the shooting, she said, Flowers began waking her in the middle of the night by holding his hands over her mouth and nose so she could not breathe. She said he told her that it would be easy her to kill her by snapping her neck, shooting her with a gun or suffocating her and hiding her body in a cave.
Three days before the shooting, Thomas said she fixed a plate of food for Flowers, but Flowers put cigarette butts in it and refused to allow her to take it away.
Two days prior to the shooting, Thomas said Flowers anally raped her. On the night before the shooting, she said, Flowers threw flour, sugar, cider and bread on the floor and they argued through the night. Flowers left in the morning for work and told her that if the house was not clean when he returned, he would kill her.
Thomas said she started to clean up the mess, but stopped to eat a sandwich. At 12:35 p.m., she said Flowers came home early and tried to sneak up to the home, but she heard him and refused to greet him at the door. She said Flowers went into a rage and she ran to the bathroom and tried to escape, but the window was too small.
She went to their bedroom and grabbed Flowers’ pistol out of a closet, then ran to the kitchen where Flowers threatened to kill her. She said she fired two warning shots, but when Flowers moved toward her, she shot him in the arm twice. The bullets passed through and entered his chest. She said Flowers fell and when he tried to get up, she shot him two more times in the back.
The defense presented the testimony of a psychologist who said that she believed Thomas suffered from battered woman syndrome. The prosecution criticized that opinion, saying it was an inaccurate assessment based on a single four hour interview with Thomas.
On December 20, 1993, the jury convicted Thomas of murder and she was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
On January 22, 1997, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the conviction, ruling that the judge’s jury instructions were not adequate in addressing battered woman syndrome and that the judge failed to instruct the jury that Thomas had no duty to flee from a cohabitant who attacked her in their home.
In August 1997, Thomas went on trial again. In this trial, the defense called two new witnesses who did not testify at her first trial.
Donna Mabry, a psychologist who began counseling Thomas after she was charged with the murder, testified that in the days after the shooting, Thomas had regressed to about the age of 12 and that she had no memory of the shooting at all. Mabry said that Thomas had acute traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the verbal and physical abuse inflicted by Flowers.
Kristen Haskins, a forensic psychologist, testified that based on Mabry’s findings, Thomas fit the profile of a victim of battered woman syndrome.
Moreover, the defense was able to confirm what the prosecution knew during the first trial, but had not disclosed—that Flowers had previously been convicted of assaulting his ex-wife, whom he divorced prior to dating Thomas.
On August 21, 1997, the jury acquitted Thomas.
– Maurice Possley