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Maverick Thomas

Other Virginia Exonerations
On September 26, 2000, 30-year-old Lisa Thomas was fatally shot in Demarcos Clothing, a store she and her husband, Maverick Thomas, operated in Martinsville, Virginia.

Thomas told police that he called Lisa at 6:30 p.m. while he was with Malvester Dixon, Jr. at Dixon’s Poor Boys Music Store. When she did not pick up the phone, he became concerned and walked to the clothing store where he found her on the floor. She had been shot multiple times. He immediately called Dixon, who ran to the store. By then Thomas had called 911.

On October 24, 2001, Billy Ray Manns was charged with the murder of Lisa Thomas, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and discharging a firearm in a building. Although Manns was 16 when Lisa Thomas was killed, he was charged as an adult.

Manns went to trial in Martinsville City Circuit Court in October 2002.Manns’s defense attorneys attempted to portray Maverick Thomas as the killer, noting that a gunshot residue test on his hands was positive—even after he had washed his hands—and that he had blood drops on his clothing that, according to a blood spatter expert, were possibly the result of blowback after Lisa was shot.

Several prosecution witnesses testified that they heard Manns bragging that he had committed the murder.

Lisa’s mother, Gracie Devins, testified that she spoke with Lisa about 4 p.m. on the day she was killed. Dixon testified that he and Thomas were in the music store at about 6 p.m. when Lisa telephoned and asked for a copy of the Final Call, the Nation of Islam newspaper. Dixon’s son, Jabrell, walked it over to the clothing store. He said that a male was in the store at the time, but he did not identify him as Manns.

Thomas testified that he called the store shortly after. When he got no answer, he went to the store and found Lisa in a pool of blood on the floor.

Dixon’s daughter, Sheba, testified that she saw Manns run through the alley across the street from the store after Thomas went inside and found his wife. She said she was sitting in the window of the record store, and recognized Manns as a customer who bought music there.

On October 18, 2002, a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Manns went to trial a second time in April 2003. Commonwealth attorney Joan Ziglar had a new theory of what happened. She said that Thomas had paid Manns to kill Lisa, noting that he had taken out a $7,000 life insurance policy shortly before the murder, and that he had washed his hands in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of gunshot residue. In addition, she argued, he didn’t immediately call 911, but instead called Dixon.

No murder weapon was ever found. Ziglar argued that Dixon had surreptitiously taken it out of the store while emergency personnel were attending to the victim.

On April 16, 2003, the jury acquitted Manns and he was released.

Three months later, he was arrested again. Police in Bassett, Virginia, charged him with firing gunshots at the Brookshire Apartments on June 26, and with breaking into an apartment armed with a gun and pistol-whipping a resident at the Sherwood Manor Apartments on July 1.

In October 2003, Manns was indicted a second time in the murder case. This time, he was charged with conspiracy to commit murder for hire, although no others were charged in the case.

In April 2004, Ziglar, who led the unsuccessful efforts to convict Manns of murder, revealed that Manns had given a videotaped confession to Henry County Sheriff’s officers while he was in jail on the apartment complex incidents. Manns said that Thomas and Dixon paid him $10,000 to kill Lisa because Thomas believed his wife was having an affair. Manns had taken a polygraph examination and his statement was deemed truthful, Ziglar said.

On October 8, 2004, Manns pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder for hire, a charge with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. His plea agreement was sealed. By that time, Manns had been convicted of the apartment complex crimes and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Three days later, on October 11, 2004, Dixon and Thomas were charged with capital murder, conspiracy to commit capital murder, use of a firearm in commission of a murder, and discharge of a firearm in a building.

In December 2004, Manns’s plea agreement was unsealed and showed that the prosecution had agreed he would receive a 1-year prison term in exchange for his testimony against Dixon and Thomas.

In May 2005, Judge David V. Williams granted a defense request for a change of venue due to extensive media coverage of the case. Thomas’s trial was moved to Roanoke City, Virginia, and Dixon’s trial was moved to Patrick County, Virginia.

Ziglar said she would seek the death penalty against Dixon and Thomas.

On July 28, 2005, based largely on testimony from Manns, a Roanoke City jury convicted Thomas of capital murder for hire, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and discharging a firearm in a building. The jury had deliberated three days before reaching its verdict.

Before the jury reconvened to hear testimony relating to punishment, the prosecution elected not to ask for a death sentence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the jury recommended life in prison without parole plus 33 years.

A week later, Dixon went to trial in Patrick County Circuit Court. Again the prosecution relied primarily on testimony from Manns. The defense called Mo Howard, who testified that he was in jail with Manns in 2004 and that Manns admitted he made up the story about being paid to commit the murder.

On August 11, 2005, the jury convicted Dixon of conspiracy to commit capital murder for hire, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and discharging a firearm in a building. The jury acquitted Dixon of capital murder, but convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of being an accessory after the fact to capital murder. The jury recommended a sentence of 16 years in prison.

In October 2005, Manns was formally sentenced to one year in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit capital murder for hire.

At a sentencing hearing for Thomas the following month, his attorneys, David Furrow and Tom Blaylock, filed a motion for a new trial. They called a witness, Joseph Wyatt, who, like Mo Howard, testified that he was in the same cellblock with Manns in 2004. Wyatt said that Manns told him he had concocted the story of being paid because he wanted get out on bond on his other charges.

Prosecutor Ziglar argued that Wyatt was a friend of Thomas’s and was lying to help him.

Judge Williams denied the motion for a new trial and sentenced Thomas to life in prison without parole plus 33 years. Before the sentence was imposed, Thomas read a statement saying, “This is a lie. This is wrong.” He apologized to his wife’s relatives for “not being there to protect her. And I’ll have to deal with that for the rest of my life.”

In January 2006, prior to Dixon’s sentencing, his lawyers, Tony Anderson and Neal Johnson, filed affidavits from three more inmates who were in jail with Manns. All three said Manns admitted he killed Lisa in a failed robbery and that the story about the murder-for-hire plot was a lie.

Circuit Court Judge Martin Clark ordered a hearing for March 2006 to take testimony from the inmates. A week later, prosecutor Ziglar filed a motion requesting that Judge Clark recuse himself from the case. Ziglar said that the judge had asked her and Dixon’s lawyers to agree to allow the Patrick County Sheriff and a Martinsville Police department investigator to interview Manns.

Ziglar’s motion said that when she asked why this was necessary, Judge Clark said “he would not have convicted Dixon if he had been the trier of fact and would be more comfortable imposing the sentence if he were assured that Manns was telling the truth.”

“Now the court seeks to reopen the investigation of the case and re-evaluate the evidence,” Ziglar’s motion said. “The trial is over. The only issue that remains (other than sentencing) is the motion for a new trial…The interview the court seeks to conduct has nothing to do with (the testimony of the inmates). It has only to do with re-evaluating matters already completely decided by the jury.”

In February 2006, after Clark stepped aside, the Virginia Supreme Court designated Roanoke City Circuit Judge Clifford Weckstein to take over the case. By that time, Manns’s lawyer, Patrick Sharpe, had reported that Manns had admitted to him that his story about the murder for hire was a fraud.

The case came to a climax in June 2006 when Manns took the witness stand at a hearing before Judge Weckstein, who questioned him.

“Who killed Lisa Thomas?” the judge asked.

“I did,” Manns replied.

“Who else, if anyone, was involved?” the judge asked.

“Nobody,” Manns said.

Following the hearing, Dixon and Thomas were both granted new trials. On June 28, 2006, Ziglar dismissed the charges and both men were released.

In 2017, Dixon, acting as his own lawyer, filed a federal lawsuit seeking a declaration of innocence, but in 2018, the lawsuit was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/18/2018
County:Martinsville City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2000
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No