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MARINE ACCEPTS LIFE BEHIND BARS IN WIFE'S KILLING.

Byline: Kevin F. Sherry Daily News Staff Writer

Deanna Delino felt a moment of joy as she watched her sister's killer leave a cramped courtroom at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, bound for a life behind bars at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

``I got a real big smile on my face when I watched them put the shackles on him,'' recalled Delino, of Moorpark. ``Knowing that I could walk out of there a free person. (That) he was going to jail, behind bars, made me feel good.''

Delino represented her family at the July 8 hearing for Marine Sgt. Joseph Thomas, who avoided possible execution by accepting a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or clemency.

In 1988, a military jury convicted him of the premeditated murder for financial gain of his pregnant wife, Melinda, who had graduated from Conejo Valley High School. Thomas was sentenced to death, but an appeals court ordered a new penalty phase after finding that the judge in the original trial had given confusing instructions to the jury.

In exchange for a life sentence, Thomas agreed not to request parole or to accept any clemency offered him, said Marine Maj. Leroy Albright. Even an order of the president cannot make him a free man.

``If he ever broke that contract and accepted parole, they would automatically retry him for the death penalty,'' Delino said.

Thomas also received a dishonorable discharge from the Marines and agreed not to profit from his crime through books or other media, she said.

Melinda Thomas' family had feared a drawn-out penalty phase, at which the gruesome facts of her death would be recounted.

``We did not want the stress and everything of going through another trial,'' said Melinda's mother, Gwen Savage of Agoura Hills. ``In a way I'm kind of relieved that it's over with. I think this is probably the best resolution.''

On the morning of Dec. 10, 1987, Joseph Thomas bludgeoned Melinda Thomas to death with a tire iron as she begged for mercy, according to court documents. After buckling her body into a seat in the couple's Suzuki Samurai, he pushed it over a 200-foot cliff along Ortega Highway and set it on fire.

El Toro prosecutors called Melinda Thomas' family after Joseph Thomas' legal representative made the offer of life in prison. Family members decided they did not need to have Joseph Thomas killed to bring resolution to the case, as long as he never walked the streets a free man.

``The family discussed it,'' Savage said. ``Our main concern was, we just didn't want him out. It keeps him there forever.''

The military did not begin offering the punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole until January, Albright said. Because Thomas was convicted in 1988, he was eligible only for either the death penalty or for life in prison.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 17, 1998
Words:482
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