Tallahassee, FL— On January 27, 2011, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation into the double homicide of a brother and sister found murdered inside of their mother’s townhouse. The victims were seventeen-year-old, Sterling Conner Jr. and 20-year-old, Laqecia Herring, their mother discovered their bodies. Also, found in the living room was Ms. Herring’s toddler daughter—she was unharmed. The victims’ mother told detectives that Ms. Herring was pregnant. When asked by detectives the name of the father of Ms. Herring’s unborn baby, she told them, DeShon Thomas.
After voluntarily walking into the Leon County Sheriff’s Office with his mother during the early evening hours on January 28, 2011, seventeen-year-old, DeShon Thomas, a full-time freshman at Tallahassee Community College and a part-time employee at Taco Bell, was unaware of what was to come. DeShon was removed from his mother, and he was denied access to attorney, and he was interrogated for several hours. DeShon was served with numerous search warrants—including one for swabbing his mouth for DNA and another for photos of his body.
“I begged the detectives to provide my son with an attorney. And they ignored me,” said DeShon’s mother. “After being in the lobby of the sheriff’s office for more than three hours protesting for detectives to send DeShon down or provide him with an attorney, I was escorted to an interrogation room where DeShon was being held. DeShon and I were in the interrogation room alone. It was not until I had to use the restroom as to when I learned that DeShon and I were locked in this room. I began to panic. I wanted to scream. I remember that moment, and others being so surreal. It was a very frightening moment. I mean neither DeShon nor I was under arrest. And I wanted to take my son and leave. But the detectives would not allow us to leave. And we were locked in this room for no reason.”
DeShon and his mother were held at the Leon County Sheriff’s Office into the early morning hours of January 29, 2011. After being kicked out of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office by Detective Don Odham for protesting the illegal detainment of her and her son, DeShon was charged as a juvenile with cultivation of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
DeShon and his mother later learned that while they were being detained at the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, detectives with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office was serving a search warrant for firearms at the residence of 21-year-old, Trentin Ross, DeShon’s co-worker. Leon County Sheriff’s detectives located in Mr. Ross’ one bedroom apartment (in Mr. Ross’ bedroom closet) five pots of soil sprouting stems of marijuana, and in the living room was a glass pipe. Mr. Ross and Mr. Ross’ girlfriend at the time, Riley Ewell, admitted that Mr. Ross was having financial problems and was growing marijuana to sell to get money. Weeks earlier, before the search warrant was served at Mr. Ross’ apartment, DeShon got into an argument with his mother and moved in with Mr. Ross. Mr. Ross did not have any electricity at his apartment. In exchange for DeShon sleeping on Mr. Ross’ couch in the living room, DeShon paid to have Mr. Ross’ electricity reconnected.
DeShon appeared in juvenile court three times in regards to the cultivation of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia charges. Circuit Court Judge Karen Geivers stated that probable cause was insufficient to charge DeShon. Assistant State Attorney Eric Trombley motioned the courts for 72 hours to perfect. The motion was granted.
On February 2, 2011, during DeShon’s third juvenile court hearing in regards to the cultivation of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, the probable cause was edited to add a sentence of having a witness (unnamed) having provided new information. Assistant State Attorney Eric Trombley motioned the courts to charge DeShon as an adult (direct file). Circuit Court Judge Karen Geivers granted the motion.
On February 7, 2011, Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell and Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Willie Meggs announced the arrest of DeShon Thomas as the murderer of Laqecia Herring and Sterling Conner Jr. The motive was said that DeShon did not want Ms. Herring to have his baby, and that DeShon did not want to pay child support, and that DeShon had a gang dispute with Sterling. DeShon entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty’ to all charges.
DeShon’s mother reacted with more concern about DeShon receiving a fair trial more so than DeShon being charged with the murders. DeShon and his mother had been in regular contact—communication with Ms. Herring. DeShon was a minor child and Ms. Herring was an adult woman—the mother of a child. Ms. Herring openly acknowledged to DeShon’s mother and may have possibly posted on Facebook that it was a mistake for her to date a boy—acknowledging that DeShon was not a man. Ms. Herring and DeShon we aware that DeShon was not eligible to be sued to pay child support. In fact, four months before the victims were found murdered, after DeShon and his mother had gotten into an argument, DeShon moved into the townhouse with Ms. Herring and her family. DeShon’s mother drove to the townhouse to speak with DeShon and Ms. Herring. DeShon’s mother also called the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and requested a deputy come to the townhouse because she wanted to DeShon to come—and believed that Ms. Herring was committing ‘statutory rape.’ DeShon’s mother also believed that DeShon was in violation of his juvenile probation for not living at home. A deputy was dispatched. The deputy insisted that Ms. Herring was not committing a crime and that DeShon was not on probation. The deputy stated that there was nothing that could be done—DeShon could stay with Ms. Herring and her family. The decision to end the relationship with DeShon was Ms. Herring’s—but the feeling for DeShon was mutual. DeShon returned home to live with his mother and his siblings. Ms. Herring understood that upon the birth of the baby, if a paternity test proved DeShon was the father, DeShon and his mother, and his entire family would care financially and emotionally as best as they could for Ms. Herring along with the newborn baby and Ms. Herring’s toddler daughter from another relationship. DeShon and his mother knew that a good criminal defense attorney would show that no animosity about Ms. Herring’s pregnancy existed between Ms. Herring and DeShon. And neither DeShon nor Sterling Conner Jr. were documented gang members.
In mid-February 2011, DeShon’s mother received a phone call from the Second Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office informing her that they (Public Defender’s office) were no longer representing DeShon due to a conflict of interest regarding the deceased victim, Sterling Conner Jr. The person on the phone provided DeShon’s mother with a phone number to the Office of Criminal Conflict and Regional Counsels Office, stating that the Regional Counsel’s Office would be representing DeShon. However, the person on the phone did not have a contact name to give to DeShon’s mother. And when DeShon’s mother called the OCCRCO, the person that answered the phone did not have a name of an attorney within their office that was to represent DeShon.
For several weeks, DeShon and his mother repeatedly called the OCCRCO, the Public Defender’s Office, and Leon County Clerk of Courts seeking a contact name of a lawyer and/ or any information available on DeShon’s case—no name or information was available.
“I made a trip to the Public Defender’s Office inside of the Leon County Courthouse and the Leon County Clerk of Courts hoping that my physical presence would net at least the name of a lawyer on DeShon’s case. Nothing. I was at a lost,” said DeShon’s mother. “Then I thought about how far forensic science has progressed. I reminded myself that the evidence would prevent DeShon from being convicted.”
The probable cause charging DeShon with the murders was made up by Detective Don Odham and signed by Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell. In it stated that Trentin Ross drove DeShon to commit the murders. However, Trentin Ross was not charged with any connection to the murders. Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell and State Attorney Willie Meggs were both up for re-election. Both were being challenged by another opponent. It was the first time State Attorney Willie Meggs had been challenged in years—probably a decade. Without a doubt the two candidates needed to make a statement. Tallahassee’s crime rate had spiked, and more crimes were going unsolved and convictions and other cases were being protested. DeShon’s mother’s concerns regarding DeShon being denied a fair trial was looking to be real.
DeShon’s mother, a single mother of four (two biological sons and relative caregiver of two and grandmother of one), had been deemed disabled just a few months before the victims were found murdered. She was receiving Social Security Retirement Insurance. She did not have money to pay for a private attorney. But she could not sit back and allow DeShon to sit in the Leon County Jail, charged with two murders that he did not commit.
Although DeShon’s mother and her children had lived in Tallahassee for almost ten years, DeShon’s mother kept a relatively low profile. She had a small social circle. Through talking to a few people, DeShon’s mother learned that State Attorney Willie Meggs had assigned Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell to prosecute DeShon’s case. She learned that Jack Campbell is the son of Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell—who charged DeShon in all of the cases against him at that time—possession of drug paraphernalia, cultivation of marijuana, and two counts of 1st degree murder.
“I knew that a conflict of interest had to exist somewhere with Jack Campbell prosecuting cases that his dad, Sheriff Larry Campbell, was the head of the arresting and charging agency,” said DeShon’s mother. “If a conflict of interest did not exist in the law, then surely a conflict of interest existed in ethics and morals.”
In mid to late February 2011, DeShon’s mother met with a few private attorneys to consult about DeShon’s case.
“Every attorney that I met with, I always asked the same two questions first, before asking other questions. The first question I would ask is, do you know that the son of the sheriff is prosecuting cases against people that his dad is arresting? And then I would ask, is that a conflict of interest?” said DeShon’s mother. “And every attorney said, no, it is not a conflict of interest. I was shocked! How does one begin to get a fair trial in a courtroom where deputies are being direct examined and cross examined by their boss’ son? If Jack Campbell doesn’t score his conviction because of a deputy’s failure to help him win, then what happens to that deputy? No job promotion? No raise in pay? No working the FSU and FAMU football games for extra pay?”
A week or so after DeShon was charged with the murders, a meeting was arranged for DeShon’s mother to meet with Criminal Defense Attorney Greg Cummings (on or about February 18, 2011). DeShon’s mother informed Mr. Cummings that she had been speaking with other attorneys, and that she was waiting to speak with DeShon’s court appointed attorney before deciding whether or not if she needed to or was going to hire a private attorney. She explained to Mr. Cummings that neither she nor DeShon had any contact name or any other information in regards to DeShon’s court appointed attorney.
“I told Mr. Cummings that there was no physical or circumstantial evidence against DeShon. And that it was highly likely that Trentin (Ross) was coerced by Detective Don Odham to point to DeShon as the murderer,” said DeShon’s mother.
Over the next several days and weeks, Mr. Cummings repeatedly called DeShon’s mother begging her to hire him. Mr. Cummings verbally berated and discredited the other attorneys to whom DeShon’s mother had previously consulted. But DeShon’s mother was holding firm to her decision to speak with whoever would be court appointed to represent DeShon.
On March 9, 2011, Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman announced that she had obtained a grand jury indictment against DeShon charging him with two counts of 1st degree murder and possession of a firearm by a juvenile delinquent.
“That same day, Mr. Cummings called me telling me that I ‘need to hire him,’ and that ‘he was the most experienced attorney in Tallahassee to represent DeShon,’ and that ‘the judge on DeShon’s case does not care about DeShon,’” said DeShon’s mother. “Mr. Cummings was the type of man that I don’t really like to do any business because he berated other attorneys in order to make himself look to be the best. But DeShon had been in the Leon County Jail for over 30 days without any representation. And DeShon was looking to me to do what he could not do, and did not know anything about doing. DeShon was a child, charged as an adult—in an adult system—including an adult jail. Yet, it was the adults within the judicial system carrying on like children—bullies on a playground. My son was not charged with stealing bubble gum out of a convenience store. My son was charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend who was pregnant—possibly with my granddaughter—and her brother. Three lives were taken. My son needed an attorney.”
Signing a Contract for Service with Mr. Cummings in the amount of fifty-thousand dollars, and then paying nearly $30,000 of the agreed amount, was supposed to bring some relief to DeShon, DeShon’s mother and DeShon’s siblings. The contract, dated March 12, 2011, signed by DeShon and his mother, just may have been breached by Mr. Cummings before the ink could dry.
Smile in your face, stab you in the back!
Friendly smiles followed by respectable hugs was the way DeShon’s mother and Mr. Cummings usually greeted each other regardless of their meeting locations. Their meeting places varied, mostly to whatever location was convenient for Mr. Cummings.
There was a request made by Mr. Cummings to meet in the parking lot of the old Food Lion on Capital Circle SE because Mr. Cummings said he would be coming from Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Killearn located on Thomasville Road, and would be heading in that direction to go home. There was another request made to meet in the parking lot of the Leon County Jail because Mr. Cummings said that he would be coming pass the Leon County Jail on his way to Gadsden County (Mr. Cummings did not meet with DeShon or any other inmate at the Leon County Jail at that time). And there was a request by Mr. Cummings to meet in a break room inside of the Leon County Courthouse after one of DeShon’s case management hearings in Circuit Judge James C. Hankinson’s courtroom. These meetings occurred over the course of sixteen months. DeShon’s mother and Mr. Cummings did not meet with each other regularly.
“I understood that DeShon was not Mr. Cummings’ only client. Mr. Cummings claimed he worked from home and did not have a paralegal. Prior to signing the contract with Mr. Cummings, Mr. Cummings insisted that I help him as much as possible,” said DeShon’s mother.
There were times when DeShon’s mother and Mr. Cummings talked over the phone. And while DeShon’s mother tried to get vital information from Mr. Cummings in regards to DeShon’s case process, Mr. Cummings never failed with changing the subject from about DeShon to his (Cummings) own personal events in life. Mr. Cummings told DeShon’s mother about a trip that he’d taken with his wife to Pennsylvania—where his wife’s parents were living at the time. And during another phone conversation, Mr. Cummings talked about how his wife was out of town, and that he’d hurt his back when he tripped over a gate in his home to keep the dog out of a restricted area. And then during another conversation, Mr. Cummings talked about his wife’s parents—particularly how his wife’s dad seemed to be unable to do anything for himself—and how his wife’s mother was the stronger one of the two—having to chop wood, and complete all the chores, etc.
Over the course of a year and a half there were many other conversations between Mr. Cummings and DeShon’s mother where Mr. Cummings would use his expertise as a defense lawyer to change the subject from about DeShon to talk about himself or his wife or his wife’s parents. Both DeShon and DeShon’s mother were truly saddened and gave their condolences to Mr. Cummings after Mr. Cummings informed DeShon that his wife’s mother had died.
“We were sincerely saddened. Especially considering the fact that Mr. Cummings had told us that she was the stronger of the two,” said DeShon’s mother. “Feeling sad for Mr. Cummings and his wife was natural for us because Mr. Cummings had talked about his wife’s parents so much it was almost as if we knew them—and we never once spoke to them at all.”
Unfortunately, while DeShon and his mother were feeling compassion for Mr. Cummings’ family, Mr. Cummings was wickedly conspiring against them.