Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 9, 2013

Pulaski, Va., man gets max sentence in Flack murder case

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — A Virginia man spoke softly Tuesday in Mercer County Circuit Court when he told the family of a Bluefield teen that he was sorry for his role in that young man’s death.

Jacob Thomas, 19, of Pulaski, Va., agreed last year to plead guilty to felony charges of voluntary manslaughter, daytime burglary and conspiracy. Thomas was a juvenile when he participated in the robbery that led to the Jan. 29, 2011 murder 17-year-old Matthew Flack of Bluefield. At that time, Thomas was almost 18 years old.

Judge Omar Aboulhosn imposed the maximum sentence available to him.

Thomas received a determinant sentence of 15 years for voluntary manslaughter; an  indeterminate term of one to 10 years for daytime burglary; and an indeterminate term of one to five years for conspiracy. He was remanded back to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

Before imposing sentence, Aboulhosn heard from members of Matthew Flack’s and Thomas’s families.

Matthew Flack’s mother, Amber Viney, took a picture of her son to the stand when she asked the court to impose the maximum sentence. She pointed out that her son was six months away from graduating high school when he was murdered.

“Matthew didn’t have a chance to graduate,” Viney told Thomas. “You took his chance away.”

Viney said that she had read the Facebook page Thomas started after the murder, and saw how he had called the attempted robbery and the murder it led to a “prank.”

“My family feels you should get the maximum sentence,” she said. “You chose to follow these kids, and now you want out of it.”

Viney read a poem Matthew wrote 26 days before he was killed, and said some of the verses described the situation Thomas entered when he accompanied the other suspects to the Flack home on Magnolia Street in Bluefield.

“I don’t understand why the heart breaks,” she read. “Why do people choose to follow?”

Matthew Flack’s sister Alexis Flack read a poem expressing her family’s loss.

“You were a great friend to everyone,” she said of her brother. “Everyone liked you. It’s a shame you have to leave so soon, but God has bigger plans for you.”

One cousin, Patrick Flack Jr., said that he, too, had been at the Anthony Center and managed to turn away from guns and violence. Losing Matthew at first crippled the Flack family, but the family is moving on, he added.

“I’m not here to judge you,” he said to Thomas, who he urged to pray. “God has handled that. God bless you.”

Jacob Thomas, sometimes almost inaudible, addressed Matthew Flack’s relatives in the courtroom.

“I apologize to the family,” he said softly.

Thomas’s mother, Melissa Thomas, took the stand and offered her condolences to the Flack family. Asking the court for “some kind of leniency,” she said her son did not drop out of school, but continued his education with a GED program. She added that he did not have any disciplinary incidents while at the Anthony Center despite being “jumped on” several times by other detainees.

“He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people,” added Thomas’s grandmother, Cheryl Thomas.

Attorney William Huffman, who represented Thomas along with attorney Lynn Fuda, said his client was remorseful and would try to reverse what happened at the Flack home if it were possible. He asked Aboulhosn to consider sentencing Thomas as a juvenile and alternative sentencing such as the Anthony Center.

“At age 19 and a half, this young man has come a long way,” Huffman said. “This is a young man who has a future in front of him, and we would ask the court to consider less severe options.”

Aboulhosn said he had to consider whether Thomas would ever again commit another crime, and whether a more lenient sentence would denigrate the seriousness of the offense.

In the case of Matthew Flack’s murder, Thomas appeared to be a follower. If there was a message to be sent by the case, it is to be careful about the people you choose as friends, Aboulhosn said. Under the law, each person who participated in a crime that led to somebody’s death bears equal responsibility.

“I think when you woke up on Jan. 29, 2011, you didn’t have murder and mayhem on your mind,” Aboulhosn said. “By the time you went to sleep that night, that’s what had happened.”

Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said Thomas could be eligible for parole within six years. Ash represented the state Tuesday with Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelli Harshbarger.

A Mercer County jury found Brandon Flack, 21, of Pulaski, Va., guilty on April 26, 2012 of first-degree murder with mercy, first-degree armed robbery and conspiracy. He will be eligible for parole in 26 years. An accomplice, Jasmen Montgomery, 27, of Pulaski, Va., pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced in November 2011 to life imprisonment with mercy; he will be eligible for parole in 15 years, but parole is not guaranteed. A third man, Joseph Flack Jr., 44, of Bluefield pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, daytime burglary and conspiracy.�