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The jury’s call: Was there intent for Dustin Thomas to kill a Philipsburg man?

Dustin T. Thomas was found guilty of first-degree murder Thursday after a four-day trial in Clearfield County Court. Thomas, 28, of Hawk Run, was charged in connection to the death of Brett Bamat of Philipsburg on Oct. 30, 2017 at a Morrisdale residence.

During the trial, Valerie Bamat, sister-in-law of the victim, testified that she and Brett returned to her home around 5 p.m. that evening to find Thomas there, even though her husband, Tim, who was incarcerated, had stated he did not want Thomas at his home.

Brett asked Thomas to help him with some chores around the house, which the two did for a few hours. Testimony from Valerie and Thomas himself revealed that throughout the evening, he was drinking from a bottle of Bird Dog whiskey that he had purchased prior to arriving at the home.

Around 8 p.m., Tim called and learned Thomas was there and said that he should leave. This upset Thomas, who said he was “more of a brother” to Tim than Brett was. Thomas pulled a gun he kept in a holster on his hip, saying it was his “muscle,” Valerie Bamat said. After Brett showed Thomas his bicep muscle, tensions eased for a while.

Valerie said that she saw Thomas pull the gun again while Brett’s back was turned. They began to scuffle before going outside at Valerie’s request. Valerie tried to ease the tension, but after a few minutes the two were arguing again and shoving each other, she testified.

Just seconds after she stepped inside the home, she heard a shot. When she looked out, she saw Brett lying on ground, she said. Thomas went to his vehicle and stated that he wanted to kill himself before he drove away. Brett died soon after, as one bullet hit his heart, liver and kidneys, according to testimony of a medical expert. Thomas was taken into custody about an hour later at his home.

Several state police troopers testified regarding Thomas’s level of intoxication while he was at the police barracks later that night as he slept on the floor. The big issue in this case was not if Thomas killed Brett, but if Thomas, who had been drinking, was able to form the intent to kill him, which is necessary for a first-degree murder conviction.

District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. told the jury in his closing arguments that Thomas was sober enough to form the intent to kill at the time of the crime, because he was able to point and fire the gun accurately and was able to back up his vehicle and drive from the scene. He also was able to think and ponder suicide. Shaw stated that Thomas fled the scene because he was aware enough to know he had done something wrong.

Thomas’s attorney, Stephanie Cooper, argued that he could not have the intent to kill due to his drinking almost the entire bottle of whiskey in a little over three hours. She noted that Thomas testified that he was unable to remember anything about that night after he was drinking around the fire as they burned garbage. The next thing Thomas knew he was in the county jail.

He believed he had been arrested for driving under the influence and did not even realize Brett was dead. The jury had the choice between first-degree murder, third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in this case. Thomas was also convicted of aggravated assault, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person. The mandatory sentence in Pennsylvania for first-degree murder is life in prison.

Thomas will be sentenced within 90 days. Judge Paul E. Cherry presided over the trial.