Richard "Rick" Geist owned a janitorial business in which he was partners with Daryl "Zaheed" Lynch.
On March 27, 1998 Geist received a payment of $5,566.20 and had plans to meet with a friend from Portand, Cedric Walker at 9pm. He cashed his check and, after waiting for Lynch to bring a payment on the remaining $144 Lynch owed on his portion of the business, Geist left to go and see Covell Thomas.
Thomas did odd jobs for Geist and they had been friends for some time. Geist had plans to take some of this money and "flip" it, and use the proceeds to go to Spain with some friends. Geist was aware that Thomas knew some people who had access to drugs, and had asked
Thomas if he could help him "flip" this money. Thomas agreed to help him, and set up a meeting with Edward Rembert to do so.
Thomas was with his fiance, Lynette Ducharme, who lived with her mother. Geist Rick arrived at around noon, and gave Thomas his paycheck for some work he had previously done. They made plans to meet up later.
Between 6.30pm – 7pm Thomas and Ducharme left to pick up Rembert. Thomas paged Geist to tell him he was on the move. After they picked up Rembert, they went to pick up Rembert's girlfriend, Desiree Azevedo. Ducharme dropped Thomas and Rembert off at Geist's place and left, with instructions to wait at home until Thomas called to pick them up later.
Thomas, Rembert and Geist got into Geist’s van and took off for his meeting to get the drugs to flip. Geist was driving, with Thomas in the passenger seat and Rembert in the back. After they left, Cedric Walker came by and knocked on the door to Geist’s place, but since nobody answered, he left.
At approximately 10.30pm, they parked in a school parking lot in Tacoma, ostensibly to wait for the "connection". Thomas got out of the van to urinate, and was confronted by a janitor/security guard, Raymond Cool, and ordered off the property. Thomas got back into the van and out of nowhere, Rembert shot Geist in the head from the backseat of the van several times. He then ordered Thomas to drive back to Geist’s place, and to pull over along the way, whereupon he dumped Geis’s body out of the van and dragged it into a field. They arrived back at Geist’s shortly after 11pm, went inside and Rembert searched the place for any money. While they were there, Walker, having seen that Geist’s van was there again, came and knocked on the door while they were inside. He was seen by neighbors. Rembert instructed Thomas to phone Ducharme to come and pick them up. When Ducharme arrived, with Azevedo, she saw Walker knocking on the door, so she just waited in her car. Walker left, then Thomas and Rembert left driving Rick's van. Ducharme saw them leave and followed. Walker also saw them drive by and followed as well, attempting to pull alongside to stop Geist. He saw that neither the driver nor the passenger were Geist, and left off and called Geist. The call was timed at 11.20pm, He called again at 11.33pm then gave up.
Geist’s van pulled over eventually, and Ducharme stopped as well. Rembert asked her for a place to burn the van, she realized that he was covered in blood and that something was very wrong. Thomas told her that Rembert had killed Geist. She suggested a place called "Gig Harbor". They all went to Gig Harbor and Azevedo set fire to the van. They all got into Ducharme’s car and went to Azevedo's house so Rembert could clean up.
Ducharme and Thomas left Azevedo's place after 15 minutes and went back to her mothers house.
The Medical Examiner estimated the time of death to be between 10pm - 10.30pm on March 27, 1998. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the back of the head, consistent in distance with having been shot from the backseat of the van.
Fire crews had been called to a car fire in Gig Harbor. When they arrived, the van was fully engaged, and ultimately, the entire van burned to the frame. No bullet casings were recovered, though the Prosecutor attempted to pass off a lug nut as a casing, he was later corrected, the bullet fragments found in the skull were said to be from either a .380, 3.7, 3.8, 9mm, or a .40 caliber gun, which covered almost any possible type of gun and had no evidentiary value.
When the Police went to Geist’s residence, the following day, they discovered evidence of the burglary, with bloody shoe prints being found, and with Geist’s blood being found inside on the doors and the bathroom sink. The dresser was opened with the contents strewn on the floor, and the drawer of a filing cabinet in the bedroom closet was also open. No identifiable fingerprints were found.
The Police were told by several witnesses that they had seen someone in the van, and several people identified Lynch as the person they had seen driving the van, including Walker, and a woman named Delores Coleman, who stated that she saw the van pulled over to the side of the road, with a blue Volvo parked behind it, and with Geist in the passenger seat, and identified Lynch as the driver, based on the eyes. Lynch was arrested, but released based on his alibi.
Thomas and Ducharme kept quiet about what had happened, in fear of Rembert's retaliation and concern for Thomas’s limited history, in which he had an assault case as a juvenile for a bb gunfight, and a bogus robbery charge.
In January 1999, a Meth dealer, manufacturer and Police informant named Kenny Adams, was caught by the Police with meth and precursors. To save himself, he claimed to know people who might know about the Richard Geist homicide. The Police sent him to wear a wire on Jeremy Horyst, a fellow meth user and dealer, to try to get Horyst to incriminate himself. Horyst bragging to his buddy claimed that Thomas had once said something to him about Horyst helping him to rob Geist. Horyst also mentioned that he had heard Rembert had something to do with the murder.
The Police then interrogated Ducharme, who had since married Thomas, and eventually arrested her. They threatened her with the death penalty if she did not co-operate, and manufactured a plea agreement by which she was forced to plead guilty to robbery and "rendering criminal assistance" and to divorce Thomas, so she could be compelled to testify against him, in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.
Thomas encouraged Ducharme to "do whatever she needed to do to clear herself." She led the Police to the place where clothing and shoes had been supposedly dumped. When they searched the area, the only thing they found was a single shoe that had nothing to do with the case. During Trial proceedings, Ducharme, who claimed the shoe was Thomas’s was unable to describe it until it was shown to her, whereupon she claimed “that’s it”.
The Police also arrested Azevedo and ultimately compelled a plea deal with her to testify against Thomas, Rembert, and Ducharme in exchange for a plea to "rendering criminal assistance".
Thomas and Rembert were arrested and charged with First Degree Murder with special circumstances, which made them eligible for the death penalty.
Covell Thomas #741352
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WASHINGTON 99362
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Prior to this case, Thomas had a charge of robbery, and was appointed a Public Defender to represent him named Michael Kawamura. Due to conflicts and Kawamura's negligent handling of the case and his attitude, Thomas fired him and his family garnered the funds to hire private counsel for that case. When this current charge was brought, the Public Defender's Office assigned Kawamura to the case, despite knowing of the conflict between Thomas and the lawyer. They also appointed a second attorney, mandatory in all death penalty cases, named Dino Sepe.
While Thomas spent many months in jail awaiting trial, he repeatedly asked Kawamura for copies of the discovery materials in the case, the documents, statements, evidence, autopsy reports, etc. that is provided by law to the defense by the prosecution in a criminal case. Kawamura told Thomas that he is "not allowed to have it", [which is untrue], but introduced Thomas to "Morgan", as an "intern for the Public Defender's Office', and said he would send the materials with Morgan for him to go over with Thomas.
In the meantime, Thomas had put in a medical request due to difficulty sleeping, and was seen by the doctor and prescribed 50mg of "Seroquel", a sedative. After approximately 30 days, Thomas was called back to the jail infirmary and explained that he was ok, and no longer having difficulty sleeping and asked the person he saw to discontinue the medication. Despite having no symptoms and no health problems, the person that Thomas saw, told him he was going to raise the dosage of Seroquel and sent him back to his cell. Shortly thereafter, the nurses began to administer 300mg of Seroquel three times per day [6 times the dosage of the sedative that had initially been prescribed], 1200mg of Neurontin, a neuro-suppressant, 25mg of Vistaril, a sophomoric, and several other drugs, none of which were necessary, as Thomas had no medical complaints. It was later discovered that this second infirmary visit was done at the behest of Thomas’s attorneys!
During the period when "Morgan" came once or twice a week with papers, he said was Thomas’s discovery materials, Thomas was heavily sedated and barely understood what was going on. "Morgan" would show Thomas a document, state what he claimed it was, and then probe Thomas for information, always acting visibly disappointed when Thomas maintained his innocence and never said anything incriminating.
During the Trial, Kawamura made it a point to ensure that Thomas was seen and medicated by the nurses before going out to Court, rendering Thomas so heavily drugged during Trial, that he fell asleep during the proceedings, to the point where Kawamura was admonished by the Judge, Sergio Armaja, to keep Thomas awake. This became such an issue that the judge conducted a hearing on Thomas’s medications, at the behest of the Prosecutor who expressed concerns about Thomas’s effect, at which the jail pharmacist testified that Thomas was on high doses of the drugs that interfered with his cognition, and an extremely low dose of the one drug that could counteract the effects of the other medications. Thomas’s attorneys took special care to tell the Judge that they believed he was fully competent and capable of participating in the defense, and even testifying, despite the testimony of the pharmacist.
At the trial, a series of witnesses, including the meth dealer/addict, Horyst, Lisa Rodin (with whom Horyst occasionally had sex and used meth), Ducharme, her sister Sandy, and Rembert's girlfriend, Azevedo, testified to various versions of Thomas’s allegedly having previously mentioned the idea of robbing Geist in the past, and Ducharme and Azevedo testifying to their agreed statements, in exchange for their respective deals with the Prosecutor. The facts of the case were altered by their testimony, to claim that it had been Thomas who fired the shots, and Rembert (who was tried separately) who was horrified by the act. These witnesses were all either friends of Horyst or relatives of Ducharme. Notably, Thomas had previously hung around with Horyst when they were younger, but Thoams distanced himself from Horyst because of his continuing and worsening meth addiction, and the fact that Horyst would steal from his own mother. This engendered some resentment in Horyst towards Thomas. It was also established that Horyst, who constantly sought attention, had been hanging around drunk at parties showing off newspaper articles and claiming to have "inside knowledge" of the case.
In his testimony, Horyst admitted that he had been given drugs by the initial informant, Adams and established that the Police knew he was under the influence of drugs on the secret recording. Moreover, when he was questioned, he was also high on drugs and the Police spent over five hours with him before they began recording his "initial statement". Jeremy Horyst had zero credibility.
There were also a lot of problems with the witness testimony when compared with the forensic evidence.
None of the bloody shoeprints could be linked to Thomas. Moreover, despite Ducharme’s story that both Rembert and Thomas were "covered in blood", concerted forensic examinations revealed none of Geist’s DNA or blood was found anywhere in her vehicle.
At least three people testified that Lynch had been the "light- skinned person" driving the van, which was attributed to being Thomas, as he has an extremely light complexion, whereas Rembert is quite dark-skinned. While it had not been Lynch, the fact is that it was allegedly Lynch who had the robbery motive from the beginning when he was arrested, and this motivation was later transferred to Thomas, despite the lack of any evidence to support it. All of this served to confuse the jury and muddle the facts and evidence.
As noted, Thomas was heavily drugged at the behest of his lawyer, with whom he had a well-documented conflict far pre-dating this case. As a result, not only did he fall asleep repeatedly in front of the jury, but also was completely unfit to even attempt to testify cogently to what had occurred. This deprived the jury of the facts as well as depriving Thomas of his absolute right to testify on his behalf. This was not enough. The forensic technician who examined Geist’s residence submitted a report establishing that there was no DNA present on the bathroom counter. However, during the Trial he testified otherwise and changed his report. When asked, on cross-examination, why he changed his report, he replied "Because the Prosecutor told me to".
Despite all of the inconsistencies and evidence, Thomas was convicted of First Degree Murder and, after the penalty phase, was sentenced to death. The Prosecutor urged the Trial Court to provide an erroneous jury instruction, regarding being the "principal offender” and told the jury during arguments that "I do not know if Mr. Thomas did it or not, but you can still convict him in the State of Washington".
Following the penalty phase, and while awaiting sentencing, Thomas was visited by Morgan, the "intern" for his hostile attorney Michael Kawamura. Morgan began berating Thomas, telling him "you are a liar because you lied to yourself and others and ended up believing your lies". This entire episode was very strange, and when Thomas became visibly upset, Morgan changed the subject. Morgan eventually showed Thomas a "VIP" card to a casino he frequented, and Thomas saw that Morgan's last name is Armijo, the same as the Trial Judge. When he confronted Morgan about this, Morgan replied that the Trial Judge is his father. Attorney Michael Kawamura, having been fired by Thomas not long before this case arose, and being somehow appointed again to "represent" and defend Thomas on a capital murder case, had the son of the Judge visiting with Thomas, ostensibly to "go over discovery", but in hindsight, it is clear that all Morgan wanted to do was to get Thomas to say something incriminating, and was clearly frustrated when he was unable to do so.
On Appeal, the Washington Supreme Court vacated Thomas’s death sentence because of the faulty jury instruction given by the Judge to the jury, in an Order dated Janary 29, 2004.
The Court ordered a new sentencing hearing, and Thomas was sentenced to life following the second "penalty phase trial". He was appointed two attorneys, Phillip E. Thornton and Michael Schwartz, who had represented him on a previous matter.
When Thomas sought further assistance to establish his innocence, he contacted the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic and Ms. Kelly Canary accepted his case. She advised Thomas that she required the discovery materials, along with the rest of the file, to review the case, a standard practice for appellate and collateral review procedures. However, when Thomas asked Thornton for the discovery files, he stated that he had to have the Prosecutor’s permission to give them to him. He later said that he had contacted the Prosecutor, Kevin Benton, and Thornton stated that Benton said it first needed to be "redacted", that is have information removed from it. Thornton then said neither he nor Benton had time to do it.
As a matter of law and fact, materials provided to the defense in discovery in a criminal case belong to the Defendant and need never be redacted as they are materials that the law requires to be disclosed. (Washington Crim. R. 4.7(A)(1) and (2).
Knowing this, Ms. Canary began to attempt to obtain the materials from both Benton and Thornton, herself but was also rebuffed. Thornton repeatedly claimed to her that he was having a difficult time getting the materials from Benton. The fact is that the materials were contained in the original files that Kawamura had of the case, and which should have been turned over to Thornton when he was appointed for the re-trial of the penalty phase.
Eventually, Thornton said that Thomas’s mother and his aunt could do the redacting, which is ridiculous because the purpose of redaction is to keep information private. When the person redacting it, is related to and representing the interests of the person from whom you are alleging you wish to keep it, it makes absolutely no sense to have them do the redaction in the first place. Again, the redaction was not required and illegal in the first place as well.
After a long time, in which Thomas’s family members did the requested redaction of the discovery materials, Thornton then said that he had to “give it to Benton for his approval". Of course, Benton claimed he had a "heavy caseload" and could not get to it for "several months".
These unnecessary and obstructionist delays effected by Thomas’s attorney and the Prosecutor working in concert to frustrate his ability to present his case, resulted in Thomas being time-barred from seeking federal review or from presenting issues in the state courts and resulted in the inability of Ms. Canary to do anything to help him at all, due to the expiration of all of the time periods.
During this post-trial period when Thomas was scrambling and trying to do anything to get someone to listen and look at the evidence, Rembert executed an "Affidavit of Truth" in which he swore under oath that everything Covell said is the truth, and that Thomas had absolutely nothing to do with shooting Geist and that Thomas had no idea that Rembert had planned to do so.
Covell Thomas is innocent and has served over 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Actual Innocent Prisoners maintain the highest standards of credibility for our group, so that visitors to web pages can trust the materials placed within. To that end, our general policy is to exclude any person who was engaged in any wrongful activity related in any way to the crime for which they are convicted. In this instance, although Covell Thomas admits attempting to help Rick Geist "flip" some money with drugs, the fact is that it had nothing to do with Rembert ambushing Rick and does not implicate Covell in the crime. The implied threat from Rembert to keep his mouth shut or get the same was, in our view, when combined with Covell's criminal history and likelihood not to be believed, sufficient justification for Covell not to rush to law enforcement to tell on Rembert when it first happened.
After our extensive review process, examining evidence and court files, we are convinced that Covell Thomas had no idea that Edward Rembert planned to kill Rick Geist, his friend, on that fateful night. While his judgment in failing to run to the authorities after it happened could reasonably be questioned, the fact is that he is, in our view, actually innocent.