The civil lawsuit involving the fatal shooting of Richland resident Charity Thome in March 2020 by Pennsylvania State Police troopers Jay Splain and Matthew Haber has been continued until the end of January 2024.
U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner issued a notice Tuesday that delays the trial to Monday, Jan. 29. A separate case that Judge Conner is still presiding over is expected to overlap the scheduled start of jury selection in the Thome case, which was originally set for Wednesday.
Why the case was postponed by nearly 11 weeks, however, is unclear as of publication. The Thome case is expected to run six or seven days, according to court documents filed by the Attorney General’s office, counsel for the two defendants.
Given the state’s estimation of the trial’s expected length, a start later than Wednesday means it most likely would not have concluded before the Thanksgiving holiday next Thursday.
Attorneys for both parties have previously attempted to settle the case, but have failed to reach an agreement, according to Benjamin Present, attorney with Kline & Specter, a Philadelphia-based law firm representing the Thome estate.
“We have had settlement discussions with the counsel for the defendants in the case,” said Present. “The offers that we have received have not been adequate to compensate Ms. Thome’s family for the enormous loss of their loved one. We are prepared to try this case to a jury of Ms. Thome’s peers.”
LebTown reported earlier this week that the Thome estate seeks between $5.2 and nearly $6 million as part of the civil lawsuit.
Plaintiff Derek Thome, acting on behalf of Thome’s estate, requests $5 million for “pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and sense of impending death” in the moments before the 42-year-old Richland woman died from several gunshot wounds, according to court documents.
Court documents filed late last month also state the plaintiff seeks between $213,753 and $997,584 for past and future lost earning potential, as explained in a report compiled by David L. Hopkins, an actuarial economist based in southeastern Pennsylvania.
The state notes in court documents that the actions of state troopers Splain and Haber occurred while on duty and that they are not liable to a civil lawsuit as state government employees.
The shooting was also ruled as justified by Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf, meaning neither Splain nor Haber were charged criminally.
Thome was shot on March 16, 2020, by Splain and Haber after a high-speed, early-morning vehicular chase that began at a home along Heilmandale Road in North Lebanon Township and ended in a field along King Street in Jackson Township.
Court documents state Thome was struck by seven of nine bullets that were shot into her car after it had been pushed into a field along King Street in Jackson Township following a maneuver by state police to disable her vehicle. Seven of the nine rounds were fired by Splain. She died inside the car she was driving.
LebTown asked Present if he believes the nearly three-month delay for the trial to start occurred to give the two sides additional time to work on a settlement agreement.
“It could be,” responded Present, “and we remain open to having a discussion with counsel for the defendants. I don’t know, candidly, what went into the length of time between the old trial date and the new one. There could be scheduling issues for the court, but we’re ready to go whenever we are called.”
In the coming months before the trial begins and up to the time that the jury reaches a verdict, both sides could reach a financial settlement agreement.
If that doesn’t occur, the jury will determine if the state is liable in this case and rule in favor of Thome’s estate or if the shooting was justified and cast their decision in favor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its two employees.
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