The Public Defender’s Office says a survey it conducted proves that Keishanna Thomas, charged with abusing and killing her 11-year-old daughter and then hiding her body in a freezer, would be unable to get a fair trial if the case were heard in Manatee County because of widespread knowledge of the case.
Thomas’ court-appointed attorneys are still seeking to have the murder trial relocated outside of Manatee County.
Janiya Thomas’ body was found Oct. 18, 2015, inside a cardboard box inside a padlocked freezer that her mother had brought to a relative’s home under the guise that she was being evicted in the days leading up to her arrest. Keishanna Thomas claimed not wanting meat in the freezer to spoil as to why she plugged it in and not wanting anyone to steal her meat as to why it was locked.
The girl was first discovered missing by authorities on Sept. 23, 2015, when child protective investigators were looking into the most recent child abuse allegation against her mother and were trying to place all five children in protective custody. Thomas would not give investigators specifics about Janiya’s whereabouts, and the girl had not been seen by anyone for months prior to Sept. 23, 2015, investigators said.
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Her mother was first arrested Oct. 16, 2015, when she refused to tell a judge Janiya’s whereabouts and was held in contempt of court.
Thomas was later indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and abuse of a dead body. The state is not seeking the death penalty. If she is convicted, she would automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
She is set to stand trial beginning Aug. 21.
On Wednesday afternoon, Thomas appeared before Circuit Judge Susan Maulucci as Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts and Assistant State Attorney Art Brown argued details regarding a court order for her to provide a forensic document expert handwriting samples. Attorneys also discussed scheduling time for a hearing to consider a change of venue request.
In a formal motion filed with the court, Roberts cites the extensive media coverage the case has drawn and the results of a survey conducted by his office’s chief investigator as to why Thomas could not get a fair trial in Manatee County. The survey was conducted on prospective jurors, according to the motion, but the parameters of the survey including questions asked, responses or sample size have not been made public.
Thomas already had been previously ordered to provide the writing samples, but at the time she was to provide them Roberts objected, citing a potential violation to her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Roberts argued that he should be allowed to know ahead of time what she would be asked to write.
Brown, disagreed, saying that it would enable Thomas to disguise her handwriting if her defense team would be given advance notice of what she would be asked to write.
“That is not an appropriate procedure to get accurate results,” Brown said.