CLEARFIELD – The case against a Hawk Run man who allegedly shot and killed another man in late October of last year will go to the jury on Thursday.
Dustin Tyler Thomas, 28, has been charged by Cpl. Matthew Gray of the Clearfield-based state police with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is presenting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Thomas is being represented by defense attorneys Stephanie Cooper and Alison Glunt of Bellefonte. The Honorable Judge Paul Cherry is presiding over the case.
The charges stem from the death of Brett M. Bamat, 36, of Philipsburg on the night of Oct. 30, 2017 at a Bass Lane residence in Morrisdale.
According to previous trial testimony from Bamat’s sister-in-law, Valerie, Thomas was helping out with chores and projects around her trailer that night.
She also said Thomas had been drinking peach-flavored Bird Dog whiskey and Bamat had been drinking vodka mixed with some sweet tea.
At around 8 p.m., her husband called from the Perry County Prison, and at his request, she asked Thomas to leave. She said Thomas became distraught and a shoving match ensued with Bamat.
She told the two men to get outside and she followed but got backed into a corner of the porch when they started pushing each other.
She went back inside very briefly and that’s when she said she heard a gunshot. She looked outside and saw Thomas standing emotionless and Bamat was lying on the ground lifeless.
Gray interviewed Thomas on the afternoon of Oct. 31 at the county jail. He said Thomas was unable to recall what happened and he advised him that Bamat was dead.
“He said, ‘Brett is dead’ and he hesitated before saying, ‘and it’s my fault,’” Gray testified. Under cross-examination, he did say that Thomas appeared surprised when he was told he’d killed Bamat.
Thomas took the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday afternoon. He said he had smoked marijuana and then gone to buy the bottle of Bird Dog whiskey, which was a “bad choice.”
Thomas remembered being at Valerie Bamat’s residence helping with chores and drinking around the fire. He was drinking from the bottle but wasn’t sure how much he’d drunk.
The next thing Thomas said he remembered was bright lights coming at him in his Jeep and waking up with guards around him at the county jail.
He said that he carried his handgun for “self-defense,” but it wasn’t typical for him to get it out of his holster. He told members of the jury that he never intended to kill Bamat.
“That’s not me,” he testified. “I don’t know how anyone could do that.” He said when Gray told him what he’d done, he felt horrible and in disbelief. “I couldn’t believe it when he told me I did it.”
Under cross-examination, Shaw asked Thomas if it’s self-defense to get drunk and shoot an unarmed man. Thomas said, “no.” Shaw then asked Thomas if he felt he should be held responsible for shooting and killing Bamat.
Thomas initially answered, “no,” but then asked Shaw to repeat his question. This time Bamat said “yes” and “that’s what generally happens.” Shaw ended his cross-examination by asking Thomas, “then why are we here.”
Matthew Mills, Thomas’ friend, said Thomas showed up at his Hawk Run residence the night of Oct. 30. He described Thomas as being a “wreck,” adding in the five years he’s known him, he’s never seen him that drunk.
Mills said he tried to make sense of things, figure out what was wrong and if Thomas needed help. He said Thomas had his gun on his hip and he usually leaves it at his house or in his vehicle.
That night, Mills said Thomas might have shoved him during a physical altercation in his bedroom. He also described Thomas as being “gun happy” and causing it to accidentally fire amid a careless act.
Under cross-examination, Shaw asked Mills to review his statement given to state police in early November, at which time he said Thomas had punched him in the jaw.
Mills said he didn’t recall and knew there was a physical altercation of sorts. Shaw also pointed out that he told police the gun firing could have been accidental or intentional.
Mills went on to tell jurors that he’d never seen Thomas snap or have anger problems. Shaw pointed out his testimony was contrary to what he had previously told state police.
Mills indicated he had difficulties recalling what really happened to state police because he had a “buzz” from drinking earlier the evening of Oct. 30. He also said that he got intoxicated the next day because of the stress from it all.
Shaw noted that his office had subpoenaed Mills and he failed to appear to court on both Monday and Tuesday but did appear Wednesday to testify on behalf of the defense.
Mills denied that Thomas asked him to make up any stories to tell state police during their investigation. He also said Thomas’ brother, Derek, didn’t offer any money in exchange for his testimony.
However, 15 minutes earlier, Derek Thomas testified that he was contacted by his brother’s attorney and helped track down Mills. He said he offered to “put money on the books” if Mills needed him to.
When asked, Mills told Shaw he wasn’t under the influence in court. Instead he claimed he was sleep deprived due to stress from having his father pass away, family issues and probably going to jail.
Dr. Lawrence Guzzardi, a medical toxicologist, testified via phone for the defense first thing Wednesday morning, even though the commonwealth hadn’t rested its case.
He was hired by Thomas’ attorneys to evaluate medical records, state police reports and related case information and provide his expert opinion.
Guzzardi said he felt he was provided with sufficient information to determine Thomas’ approximate blood-alcohol content level at the time of the homicide.
He said based upon his calculations, Thomas’ BAC was in the .3 percent range, or three-and-a-half to four times the legal limit in Pennsylvania.
He was confident with his opinion, which he felt was supported by the fact Thomas was seen visibly intoxicated and had a very poor recollection of what happened after 5 p.m. He said Thomas was also arguing with Bamat for no reason and had thrown an electronic device in the trash.
“All are examples of bizarre, alcohol-influenced behaviors,” Guzzardi testified. “… When he was fighting with Bamat, he was acting irrationally.”
Subsequently, he said Thomas would not have been able to form the specific intent to kill because he was unable to think clearly and fully comprehend his actions and their consequences.
Glunt asked Guzzardi if Thomas would have been impaired if he had consumed nearly a 750 ml bottle of whiskey. He replied, “Yes. You don’t have to be a toxicologist to reach that conclusion.”
During his cross-examination, Shaw questioned the accuracy of the toxicologist’s curriculum vitae, which he marked and had published to the jury.
He accused Guzzardi of “inflating” his resume by listing a membership twice and called attention to some listed qualifications that were outdated.
He said it was notable that Guzzardi hasn’t provided an opinion for the prosecution’s side in 20 years and that he (Guzzardi) felt it was necessary to document Bamat’s BAC in his report.
Shaw argued that Guzzardi reached his calculation based upon numerous assumptions. He said there wasn’t any scientific evidence to prove only Thomas had consumed the whiskey and over what timeframe.
Guzzardi agreed that it was possible that Valerie or Brett Bamat had drunk from the bottle or that it might have been knocked over and spilled.
Shaw said after 8:30 p.m., there also wasn’t any proof that Thomas didn’t consume alcohol. Guzzardi said it was his opinion that Thomas drove to a friend’s and there wasn’t alcohol in his vehicle.
On the subject of Thomas’ memory, Guzzardi agreed with Shaw that it was possible for Thomas to be lying about not having any recollection of what happened.
Shaw argued that Thomas would have to do “everything right” mechanically to “score a direct hit” to Bamat’s heart. However, Guzzardi disagreed.
Shaw asked why Thomas apologized for what he had done if he didn’t have any memory of what happened. He also said Thomas was able to back up his Jeep and drive away that night, which was further proof he still had his faculties.
Dr. Ernest Jones Jr., an emergency room physician at Clearfield Penn Highlands Hospital, said he was in charge of Thomas’ care when he presented to the ER at 1 a.m. Oct. 31.
He described Thomas as being intoxicated with a BAC of .232 percent, or three times the legal limit. He said he was also lethargic and didn’t cooperate with medical staff.
Both the commonwealth and defense rested their cases late Wednesday afternoon. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday with closing arguments in Courtroom No. 1.