The Jackson Free Press was disturbed, and confused, to discover this week that Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith has not publicly revealed that he is the cousin of Quardious Thomas, whom Jackson homeowner Eric Williams killed in July for breaking into his vehicles.
This newspaper has called in the past for Smith, who has not responded to requests for interviews about the case, to take the death of the unarmed 20-year-old to a grand jury and let them decide whether or not Williams should be charged in the case under Mississippi law.
Both the DA and Jackson police seem to be assuming that the killing would fall under the state's Castle Doctrine, but it is entirely unclear whether a grand jury would agree, considering that no evidence has emerged that Thomas intended violence against the people inside the house or had the means to commit it. It is entirely possible that he was indeed committing a property crime, but a grand jury should determine if Williams' response amounted to a justifiable homicide—and that decision should certainly not be left to officials with clear potential bias in the case in any direction.
During research for R.L. Nave's cover story about the Thomas death this week, we figured out that the DA is first cousin to Carlos Thomas, the young man's father and the son of Mat Thomas.
We cannot guess how this information might influence the DA's actions on this case—it certainly does not seem to have encouraged him to send it to a grand jury for a thorough look at his cousin's death so far—but we do know that it is the district attorney's responsibility to reveal such potential conflicts of interest to the public.
As is apparent in the cover story, there are unanswered questions in this case, including several the deceased's mother has had a hard time getting answered, even solid verification of the time of death. The bottom line is: Our community, and our law-enforcement officials, must honor the life of an unarmed young man enough to demand a thorough investigation of the facts and to allow a grand jury, and then potentially a jury, to determine if the young man presented a threat to anyone's life.
The Castle Doctrine leaves far too many gray areas that can easily obscure poor policing, insufficient prosecution or even cover-ups of what really happened in such cases. The idea of "self-defense" (and shooting to kill over property) cannot be allowed as an easy excuse for riddling unarmed people with bullets with no real investigation.
It is hypocritical to call for justice for a Trayvon Martin in other states and not for a Quardious Thomas in our own. The DA must recuse himself and allow other authorities—the attorney general, perhaps?—to step in and make sure that an injustice has not occurred.