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Witnesses Testify About Convicted Murderer Joseph Thomas' Childhood

Psychologist at Lake County Juvenile Court said Thomas had a chaotic, violent childhood

Before Joseph Thomas was a 28-year-old man he was a 14-year-old child who got on trouble for hitting his mother.

When that happened, Judy Jackson -- an assistant psychologist for the Lake County Juvenile Court -- did a psychological evaluation of Thomas. Jackson testified Wednesday in Lake County Court of Common Pleas that Thomas had a nomadic, sometimes violent childhood.

"He grew up with a lot of violence and a lot of chaos in the house," she said.

Thomas has been convicted of the rape, murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery of McSween. He continues to insist that he is innocent.

However, the jury still has to deliver a verdict as to what his sentence should be.

The jury can choose a punishment between 25 years to life, other lengthier prison sentences or the death penalty.

McSween, 49, was tending bar at Mario's Lakeway Lounge in Mentor-on-the-Lake on Nov. 26, 2010 and closed the bar by herself.

Thomas, who was at the bar that night, was arrested and charged with her death after authorities found McSween's burnt clothes in a barrel behind the Mentor-on-the-Lake home where he lived at the time of the murder.

Thomas' attorneys presented several witnesses Wednesday who talked about his difficult childhood, hoping that it will make the jury less inclined to sentence him to death.

Jackson said that, even at 14, Thomas had already been to several different schools because his family kept moving.

"Having that nomadic lifestyle tends to lend itself to children who act out," she said.

Thomas told Jackson that he had punched his mother because her boyfriend at the time and she had been hitting him and he decided to fight back, Jackson testified.

At the time Jackson wrote in her evaluation that Thomas had problems with anger management and a very low tolerance for frustration.

When it came time for a 14-year-old Thomas to return home, Jackson testified that he would have preferred to stay in the juvenile jail because of the violence in his home.

Family life

Thomas' mother, Verna Rodriguez, and his siblings, James Thomas and Tessa Rodgers, also testified that he had a difficult life.

Rodriguez testified that she struggled with crack addiction, left her children with near strangers and moved to Seattle without telling them beforehand, according to The News-Herald.

"I was hooked on crack really bad," she said, according to the newspaper. "The kids were taking care of themselves."

Several of the witnesses were asked Wednesday if Thomas had a temper or fancied himself a ladies man.

Walter Robert Blare, an ex-boyfriend of Rodriguez's who lived with the family for a time, said "yes" on both counts.

He testified Thomas once made a $20 bet with him that he could get any woman. When Thomas failed to pick a woman up, he got angry, Blare said.

"I got slapped upside my head by a cold-cocked fist," Blare said.

Blare said Thomas was not always angry.

"When he was drinking, he turned into Dr. Jekyll and and Mr. Hyde," he said.

The defense attorneys are expected to present more witnesses today -- including, possibly, Thomas.

This is the first capital murder trial in Lake County in more than a decade.

More trial coverage:

Jury Begins Hearing Evidence in Joseph Thomas Murder Trial

Prosecutor: Clothes of Murder Victim Annie McSween Found in Suspect's Backyard

Patrons of Mario's Lakeway Lounge Testify About the Night Annie McSween was Murdered

Suspect's Neighbor Recalls Burn Barrel Incident Hours After Annie McSween Was Murdered

Jury Sees Police Interviews Of Murder Suspect Joseph Thomas

Ex-Girlfriends Of Suspect Testify At Trial

Defense Presents Its Witnesses At Joseph Thomas Trial

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