Murderer Taken off Death Row, Gets 100 Years Man Admits to Waukegan Killing and Offers Apology

By Gordon, Tony | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

Murderer Taken off Death Row, Gets 100 Years Man Admits to Waukegan Killing and Offers Apology


Gordon, Tony, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tony Gordon Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer

After four years on death row for a Waukegan murder, Christopher Thomas on Wednesday was spared lethal injection when a Lake County judge resentenced him to 100 years in prison.

And then Thomas, 26, apologized to the victim's family, for the first time acknowledging in court he killed 39-year-old Rafael Gasgonia in 1994 while robbing him.

The death penalty Thomas received in 1995 for the murder of Gasgonia, also of Waukegan, was converted to a term of 100 years in exchange for Thomas' pledge not to appeal the ruling.

Thomas, 26, turned to face Gasgonia's relatives seated in Circuit Judge Barbara Gilleran Johnson's courtroom and apologized for the killing.

"I cannot bring your brother and son back to you no matter what I am sentenced to," he said. "I hope you can forgive me, and if there is anything I can tell you about what happened that day I would love to answer your questions."

He will have to serve 50 percent of the 100 years with time off for good behavior and could be eligible for parole when he is 66.

Thomas held a .22-caliber pistol just inches from Gasgonia's face and shot him above the left eyebrow after robbing him of $61 on Oct. 25, 1994.

The death sentenced imposed by Circuit Judge Charles Scott on June 27 of the following year came under scrutiny when noted author and attorney Scott Turow volunteered to work on Thomas' appeal without pay.

Last September, Johnson ruled Thomas' psychological records had been improperly admitted at his original sentencing hearing and set the stage for Wednesday's decision.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel said information about Thomas' background brought forward by his new defense team and a desire to end the case for the Gasgonia family prompted prosecutors to back away from the death penalty.

"We were shown that the defendant had what can only be described as a horrendous upbringing, which in some way can account for his anti-social behavior," Mermel said.

"We also considered the fact that another death sentence would mean another set of appeals, and we wanted to give the victim's family the small comfort of having the case done with once and for all."

Turow said the decision of State's Attorney Michael Waller and his staff to reach a compromise sentence "upheld the highest traditions of the legal profession" and brought justice to the case. …

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