Putnam drops charges in slaying of Yvonne Thomas
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Putnam County prosecutors have dismissed murder charges against a Nitro man in a nearly 12-year-old slaying for lack of evidence.
David Matthew Little, of Nitro, was charged in 2011 with first-degree murder in the death of Yvonne Thomas. Thomas, 41, whose body was discovered at Island Creek Road near Tornado in April 2002, had been carried or dragged across a field to the edge of a wooded area, where she was left in a creek bed, State Police said at the time.
Little's trial has been moved several times in the past, and his latest trial date was set for Sept. 9. According to Little's attorney, Timothy LaFon, the prosecution's only witness had changed his story too many times, making it difficult for him to be considered reliable enough for the case to withstand trial.
"They found that the witness had changed his story so many times that he was considered unreliable, therefore the prosecution could not go forward," LaFon said. "Obviously [Little] is ecstatic, because he was being held for charges in a crime he had not committed."
According to court documents, in 2007, Edward Lewis, who is currently serving time in a federal facility in Colorado for mailing threatening documents to state and federal officials, provided information to State Police investigators. Lewis told them evidence linked to Thomas' murder could be found at an area known as the Null family farm in Liberty, off Fisher Ridge Road.
Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia said Lewis, a former resident of Kanawha County, was able to lead investigators to evidence that Thomas was killed in Putnam County but was too "erratic" to be relied on as the main witness in Little's trial.
He also said the prosecution did not have enough forensic evidence to go to trial without Lewis' testimony.
"I just thought, 'Is it appropriate for us to base a murder case on the testimony of a man who has reached a point where I can't believe anything he says?' I think, in my gut, there might be some truth to what he said, but his behavior is so erratic and self-serving, and it reaches a point that playing the 'prison game' of 'I can give you this if you give me that,' that his credibility became so low that I said, 'I cannot, in good faith, put him in a courtroom,'" Sorsaia said.
Sorsaia said he had hoped Thomas' family could have closure, but he felt that not only was the case against Little too weak, but it could not be proven conclusively that Lewis was not involved in the murder.
"If we had strong core evidence -- good DNA evidence -- we could use someone like him to corroborate that evidence and ethically get by," he said. "But when your main evidence is someone of his quality, with his behavior, it becomes more problematic."
Little was serving time in the Martinsburg Correctional Center for conspiracy and attempting to operate a clandestine drug laboratory when the charge was first filed. He was released last Wednesday, according to LaFon. The case has been dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be filed again if enough evidence surfaces, but LaFon said he thinks that is unlikely.
Thomas' sister, Rita Ratcliff, said she had not had time to collect her thoughts on the dismissal since her niece, Thomas' daughter, sent her a message telling her Little would not be tried in court.
"The only thing I can say about it is that Jesus is still in control," Ratcliff said. "I'm still praying, and I believe that there will be justice one day."
Thomas left her father's Cedar Grove residence in July 2001 and walked across the street to have a drink at the End Zone Bar. Hours later, she was seen leaving Shrewsbury's Twin Hills restaurant with a man.
Her body was discovered in the creek bed nearly a year later, and authorities initially believed, because of severe decomposition, that it was the body of a 5-foot-6-inch white male. Medical examiners estimated the body had been there for about two months. State Police determined she had died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at email@example.com or 304-348-5189.