The punishment phase begins Tuesday morning in the trial of Steven Thomas, who could receive the death penalty for killing a 73-year-old Williamson County woman in 1980.
A jury deliberated for about three and a half hours Monday before finding Thomas, 56, guilty of capital murder in the death of Mildred McKinney. Thomas showed no emotion after the verdict was announced. McKinney’s relatives cried and hugged each other.
Thomas could receive the death penalty or a life sentence making him eligible for parole in 20 years. He was charged in 2012 after investigators said his DNA matched DNA found at the scene.
McKinney’s grandson, 46-year-old Bob Stapleton, said Monday that he had never known the “horrific” details of his grandmother’s death before the trial began Oct. 20. Her slaying “was unprecedented in its brutality,” he said.
During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Lauren McLeod said McKinney had moved from Detroit to Williamson County to live near her daughter.
Thomas, who worked for his brother’s pest company in 1980, first came to McKinney’s house after she arranged for bug treatment, McLeod said. He saw that she had “a lot of nice stuff” and “dressed nicely,” McLeod said.
Thomas went back to McKinney’s house early on the morning of Nov. 4, 1980, through a sliding glass door, McLeod said. “She was asleep in her own home and he tortured her and violated her in every way possible,” McLeod said.
Thomas’ fingerprint was found on a clock on McKinney’s bed and his semen was found on a ribbon around her finger, the prosecutor said. She said that other suspects, including serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and his partner Ottis Toole, were ruled out because there was never any scientific evidence linking them to the scene.
Defense attorney Steve Brittain said in his closing argument that another man’s DNA was found inside McKinney’s throat. He also said there was a mixture of DNA from at least two men and possibly a third found on the ribbon around McKinney’s finger.
“We do not know how it got to be a mixture, and the other puzzle is who was involved or how they were involved,” Brittain said.
Lucas and Toole knew many details about the crime, Brittain said. Toole was able to identify McKinney’s house when law enforcement authorities drove him by it, Brittain said.
Brittain said another suspect, Randy Boettcher, a construction worker who was working near McKinney’s home, later told his brother that “he (Boettcher) had done something terrible in Texas.”
Toole, Lucas and Boettcher are now dead.
After Brittain had finished speaking to the jury, prosecutor Lytza Rojas stood up and faced them. With her voice rising, she pumped her fist in the air, saying Thomas walked into McKinney’s house and struck her so hard with his fists that McKinney’s blood was on the ceiling and her teeth came through her cheek.
Rojas said Thomas “savagely raped her (McKinney) over and over,” ransacked her things, tied her up and then took the time to “make a noose out of a pillowcase.”
He then strangled her so hard he broke one of her bones, Rojas said. “If you want to believe that Lucas and Toole were there, OK. But what does it make (Thomas), palling around with those people?” said Rojas to the jury.