Federal charges dismissed; Eaves faces tribal charges

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

An illegal arrest is cited as the cause for last week’s dismissal of a second-degree murder charge against a Pawhuska man suspected of beating his girlfriend to death last August.

In an opinion issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Dowdell ruled that Osage Nation Police failed to show probable cause for taking Thomas Mongrain Eaves into custody prior to initial interrogations by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The dismissal followed a series of rulings earlier this month in which the judge determined statements allegedly made by Eaves were inadmissible due to “misconduct” by investigators.

On Friday, the 57-year-old slaying suspect was released from the Tulsa City-County Jail into the custody of the Osage Nation.

Eaves is being held in the Osage County Jail on a tribal court charge of second-degree homicide — which was filed against him Thursday, Osage Nation officials said.

ON officials said second-degree homicide is a tribal misdemeanor for which a conviction would carry a maximum sentence of one year in the county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Eaves also could be banished from tribal property for up to 20 years, officials for the tribe said.

Defense attorneys had successfully challenged the legality of Eaves’ arrest, as well as statements he had made to investigators following the August 2015 death of his girlfriend/fiance, 44-year-old Starr Lovette Pennington.

According to documents previously filed in the case, Eaves had brought Pennington to the Pawhuska Hospital emergency room early on the morning of Aug. 25. After requesting medical treatment for the woman, Eaves was detained as a “material witness” by the Osage Nation Police Department, court documents stated.

Soon after her arrival, Pennington was pronounced dead by emergency room personnel — who later estimated she had been dead at least four hours prior to being brought to the hospital.

In an April 8 opinion, Dowdell said the police had not shown probable cause for detaining Eaves.

“Officers may not avoid the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement by calling their detainees ‘material witnesses’ rather than ‘suspects,’ ” Dowdell’s ruling stated.

In finding the arrest to be illegal, the judge said: “The misconduct in this case was obvious.”

Dowdell said the government had admitted that the defendant was detained “in the hope that something might turn up …”

The judge added that a evidence resulting from a search of Eaves’ vehicle should also be thrown out since the search occurred after he was illegally arrested. Prosecutors had previously agreed to not bring up information obtained from Eaves during interviews conducted between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1 — unless the defense did so first at a trial.

William Widell, who served as Eaves’ public defender for the federal court hearings, said his client maintains that he “does not know what caused Pennington’s death.”

Eaves was detained in an Osage Nation Police Department holding cell for about six hours before FBI agents had asked to interview him, court records claim. After being advised of his rights, Eaves talked to investigators for about an hour, case documents state.

Investigators later executed a valid search warrant at Eaves’ home, where a large amount of blood was found on the floor, the court records state. Federal prosecutors eventually filed a second-degree murder complaint against Eaves on Sept. 16 — more than two weeks after he was initially interviewed.

During one early interview, Eaves had said he found Pennington unconscious the night before the trip to the hospital — although he later claimed he it had been the same day, court documents state. When investigators asked how Pennington died, Eaves reportedly said she was an alcoholic and had been unresponsive for the six to seven hours prior to her removal from their residence, according to the affidavit

A report submitted by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office appeared to contradict Eaves’ account of events as it showed that Pennington died from blunt force trauma to the head. The report stated the injuries occurred shortly before her death and that they could not have been caused by a fall.

The medical examiner’s report also said the woman had five broken ribs from a previous injury and two from a recent injury. Bruises were found covering her back, legs, arms and head, the report stated.