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The Entire Annie McSween Murder Case -- From Crime To Sentence

Joseph Thomas -- who faces the death penalty for McSween's murder -- is scheduled to be sentenced Monday

Annie McSween was found murdered Nov. 26, 2010, in a wooded area behind a bar where she worked on Andrews Road in Mentor-on-the-Lake.

It was Black Friday -- the morning after Thanksgiving -- as well as her 49th birthday.

It took almost two years but a chapter in McSween's story will end Monday when Joseph Thomas -- the man convicted of kidnapping, robbing, raping and murdering McSween -- is sentenced.

He faces the death penalty -- the first capital case in Lake County, Ohio, in 18 years.

McSween, who lived in Mentor, had tended bar at Mario's Lakeway Lounge the night before -- even offered to close the bar herself earlier that morning, according to the lounge's owner, Mario Cacaic.

But she did not make it home that night. Instead, her blood was found smeared on and by a house next door to the bar, which Cacaic also owned. Meanwhile, the phone lines for the bar had been cut and several tires of the cars parked outside the lounge had been flattened.

Then McSween's body was found. She had been choked, beaten and stabbed repeatedly, according to the medical examiner. She was naked except for her socks.

The Aftermath

McSween's friends and family mourned their loss.

Angela Dragas was the manager of the nearby Breakwall Tavern, where McSween also tended bar at the time of her death. Dragas worked with McSween for 10 years. Her daughter, Ashlee, thought of McSween as a second mother.

"If she had a dollar in her pocket, you got 75 cents of it," Dragas said during a benefit in McSween's memory soon after the murder. "She really cared about taking care of everybody."

Meanwhile, some in Mentor-on-the-Lake worried whether a murderer might be in their midst.

Jaynell Boyer, a bartender, did not know McSween but attended her benefit at Breakwall Tavern because of occupational solidarity.

"In this little town, it could have been any of us. It could have been any of us barmaids," Boyer said. "We close bars and walk outside by ourselves all the time, and it's not safe."

Meanwhile, the authorities -- which included the Mentor-on-the-Lake Police, Mentor Police, the FBI and Bureau of Criminal Investigations -- searched for a culprit.

Shortly after the murder they had interviewed every person known to be at the bar that night -- save one.

The unidentified bar patron was described as being a young man, about six feet tall, with light-colored hair, a diamond stud earring and a lateral incisor that is dark and chipped.

The man played pool with other patrons that evening and talked about how his Thanksgiving plans had gone awry because of a fight with his girlfriend.

Unbeknownst to authorities at the time, the man they described was Joseph Thomas.

The Investigation

When police finally did interview Thomas, they did not immediately identify him as a suspect.

In fact, they first interviewed him in December. Soon thereafter, for information that leads to the conviction of McSween's killer.

In fact, he was not identified as a suspect until April 2011.

That April, police officers canvassed the neighborhood where the murder occurred, hoping to find McSween's clothes.

A resident told police that he saw a man, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, standing in the rain and burning something in the backyard of 5589 Marine Parkway, which is where Thomas used to live, prosecutors said.

When police searched the backyard, they found the barrel containing charred clothing. DNA tests later matched blood found on the sweater to McSween.

Thomas still maintains his innocence. His defense attorneys claimed that the clothes could have been placed there by someone else because, by April, Thomas had already moved out of that home. And, if Thomas had killed her, he would have destroyed that evidence instead of leaving it for someone else to find.

Not wanting to depend solely on the testimony of the bar patrons and the evidence of the burn barrel, police checked to see if DNA evidence linked Thomas to the crime.

The Laboratory Corporation of America used a YSTR test to compare Thomas' DNA to male DNA found on McSween's underwear and on her body.

While the test did not confirm the found DNA was from Thomas, it didn't exclude him either. However, it did exclude other male suspects, including Cacaic and several men who were at Lakeway Lounge that night.

Believing their case to be strong enough, police arrested . He was indicted on charges of aggravated murder, rape, tampering with evidence, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

While McSween's friends and the people of Mentor-on-the-Lake expressed relief when a suspect was arrested and charged, one of the victim's biggest advocates did not live to see Thomas' arrest.

Erica McSween, Annie McSween's daughter, died at the age of 26 on Jan.23 in Mentor.

While rumors floated that Erica's death was related to her mother's, those rumors were unfounded. The younger McSween died from an accidental overdose.

The Suspect

Thomas, 28, was not a regular at Mario's Lakeway Lounge -- .

However, he was at the bar the night McSween was murdered. In fact, one bar patron, Matt Miller, said Thomas asked McSween to dance and she declined.

Thomas ; but nothing in his criminal record portended a murder charge.

However, they do show that Thomas sometimes got into trouble when drinking.

Thomas was previously accused (though not convicted) of punching a pregnant teenager in the stomach.

A few days later, Thomas was accused of stealing a pen set, lottery ticket, phone and Dell laptop from cars in Leroy Township.

When a deputy asked Thomas why he stole the laptop, he replied, "I really don't know. I was drunk and it sounded good," according to his arrest report.

Additionally, in 2003, Thomas was charged with aggravated menacing in Fairport Harbor. He was accused of pulling a knife on a pair of teenagers who had thrown snowballs at him, Fairport Harbor Police Chief Mark Kish said.

However, that charge was later dropped.

The Trial

Thomas' trial took about four weeks -- two of which were dedicated to jury selection.

It took so long to pick a jury, in part, because of the high-profile nature of the case; and, when cases receive more attention, it is more difficult to find an impartial jury.

In fact, Thomas' attorneys filed a motion saying that the trial should be held somewhere besides Lake County because it would be so difficult to find an impartial jury.

However, after winnowing a potential jury pool of 140 people to 12 jurors and four alternates, Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard Collins Jr. dismissed the defense's request.

Then, during the ensuing two weeks, the jurors heard the aforementioned DNA and forensics evidence, as well as testimony from patrons who were at the bar the night of McSween's murder.

While Thomas did not testify during the trial, jurors did watch videos of police interviewing him.

Thomas' answers to police contrasted with testimony that jurors already heard from bar patron Matt Miller.

Miller played pool with Thomas at Mario's the night McSween was murdered.

Miller testified that Thomas asked McSween to dance that night. However, she declined. Miller also said that Thomas was carrying a knife that evening and talked about how he and his girlfriend had had a fight. Finally, Miller testified that he left the bar before Thomas.

Thomas told police that none of these things were true.

"I don't dance," Thomas told Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Sgt. Scott Daubenmire. "I hardly ever talk to barmaids except to order a drink."

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Afterward, Thomas continued to insist upon his innocence even as he was escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.

"I didn't do this (expletive deleted,)" he told the news cameras that lined the hallway outside of the courtroom.

The Sentence

Thomas' trial did not end with the guilty verdict.

After that, the jury -- which consisted of the same jurors as the trial -- gathered and came to a verdict as to what punishment Thomas should face.

Thomas faces one of four sentences:

  • 25 years to life in prison
  • 30 years to life in prison
  • life without the possibility of parole
  • the death sentence.

During the hearing, Lake County Assistant Prosecutors Charles Cichocki and Pat Condon presented aggravating evidence to justify the death sentence to the jurors.

Meanwhile, Thomas' attorneys -- David Doughten and Lake County Assistant Public Defender Charles Grieshammer -- offered mitigating evidence to justify giving a prison sentence.

Doughten and Grieshammer emphasized Thomas' difficult childhood.

Several family members and associates testified that Thomas .

However, the jury decided that Thomas should face the death penalty.

But the jury's verdict does not necessarily mean Thomas will be sentenced to death.

Judge Collins will make the final decision as to what Thomas' sentence will be 3 p.m. Monday.

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