February murder trial scheduled for local man

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
February murder trial scheduled for local man

A federal court trial is scheduled early next year in Tulsa for a 56-year-old Pawhuska man charged with murdering his girlfriend.

Starr Pennington, 42, was pronounced dead Aug. 25 at Pawhuska Hospital. She had been driven to the hospital’s emergency room around 2:30 a.m. by Thomas Mongrain Eaves, with whom she resided a few miles east of town.

According to reports submitted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pennington was “ice cold” and covered with bruises upon her arrival at the hospital. The property where Pennington is believed to have died is restricted Indian land under federal jurisdiction.

In October, a federal grand jury for Oklahoma’s Northern District returned indictments against Eaves for second-degree murder in Indian Country and voluntary manslaughter in connection with Pennington’s death. A trial has been set to begin Feb. 16 before U.S. District Judge John Dowdell.

Dowdell denied three defense motions in the case earlier this month and is expected to rule on several others during a motions hearing on Monday, Feb. 1. The previous motions asked the judge to disallow statements Eaves had made to investigators while he was being detained approximately five hours after taking Pennington to the hospital.

In their arguments about admission of those statements, prosecutors said Eaves had not been illegally arrested (as claimed by the motions) since he was being held as a material witness by the Osage Nation. The judge ruled that Eaves had been informed of his Miranda rights twice — first by ON officers and later by the FBI investigators.

A report by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office revealed Pennington had died from blunt force trauma to the head and said the injury occurred shortly before her death. The medical examiner reported that the woman had five broken ribs from a previous injury in addition to two recently-broken ribs. Bruises also were found on her back, legs, arms and head, according to the report.

An affidavit filed in the case said hospital staff found the apparently-unconscious Pennington in the passenger seat of Eaves’ vehicle. They brought her to the emergency room by wheelchair and attempted — unsuccessfully — to revive her. A doctor later determined that Pennington had been dead for at least four hours before arriving at the hospital.

When asked how Pennington died, Eaves said she was an alcoholic and was unresponsive and intoxicated for the previous six to seven hours, according to the affidavit. Eaves reportedly said that he woke up from a nap and found her covered in vomit and not breathing. During subsequent interviews with investigators, he attempted to explain that bruises on Pennington’s ears were caused when he slapped and shook her while trying to wake her up.

Eaves said he had once broken Pennington’s jaw because “she was loud and would not shut up,” the affidavit states. He told investigators he also had kicked her in the back. Eaves said Pennington broke her ribs falling out of his truck a week before her death, the affidavit adds.

The affidavit claims Eaves admitted that he knew Pennington was already dead before he took her to the hospital. Eaves also said he possibly hit Pennington and does not remember doing it, the affidavit states. Friends and family of the woman have reported knowing Eaves was abusing her, the affidavit said.

Thirty years ago, Eaves was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1986 shooting death of his father, 61-year-old Wilbur Eaves. He served nearly 12 years in prison for the crime, which occurred on the east side of Pawhuska. Eaves pleaded guilty in 2000 to tampering with a victim by intimidation, physical force and threats and was sentenced to 31 months in federal prison.

In appeals filed over the next three years, Eaves claimed that his conviction was not valid. He maintained that because he and his father are both Osage Indians and the alleged crime would have occurred in a tribal housing project, the federal government — rather than the state — should have had jurisdiction. The appeal was denied by a 4-1 vote of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

The maximum penalty that could be assessed Eaves if he were found guilty of the latest charges is a life prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for second degree murder, and a 15-year prison term plus a $250,000 fine for voluntary manslaughter conviction.