BRADENTON — Bruce Fast says he carries his wife Susan’s ashes inside sea shell-shaped lockets around his neck every day, a constant reminder that she is always with him.
But as for his son, Thomas Fast, 54, now heading to prison for life for the 2007 killing and dismembering of his stepmother Susan Fast, sorting through emotions is more complex for the elder Fast.
During more than four hours of jury deliberations Monday, Bruce Fast, 76, walked the halls outside the courtroom awaiting his son’s fate. While waiting for the verdict, he reflected on observing his son sitting at a defendant’s table facing jurors.
“I look at him and I just don’t feel anything,” Bruce Fast said. “I think when it first happened, I did for him. But he has caused too much pain for two years to feel anything anymore.”
That stance would soften as an emotional scene unfolded: As Thomas Fast learned a jury had found him guilty of first-degree murder and robbery, his father gasped, clutching the arms of those sitting around him.
Thomas Fast only grimaced with little other emotion, telling his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Fury: “I can’t believe they could do this to me,” Fury revealed Tuesday.
A couple of jurors cried as they affirmed their decision to Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. But it was the walking of Thomas Fast past his father and brother to a holding cell to a life in prison that impacted Bruce Fast the most.
Relief finally came for the elder Fast that a jury had convicted his son. But he vows he will never see Thomas again — and that notion brought home that he not only lost his wife, but also a son.
“I feel a great deal of sadness. I am sad to see his life end this way,” he said.
Thomas Fast’s trial culminated with a verdict at about 11 p.m. Monday. Jurors had begun hearing testimony at 8:30 a.m., starting with theories presented by the defense that continued to breed controversy a day after the verdict.
Fast’s attorneys argued that their client was innocent, and that he instead had been framed for the killing of his 60-year-old stepmother by her husband — an accusation neither Bruce Fast nor Assistant State Attorney Art Brown appreciated.
Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts’ accusations that he had framed his son, Bruce Fast said, and that he possibly was involved in his wife’s death were “filled with untruths.”
On Tuesday, Brown defended Bruce Fast, who he put on the stand to testify against his son during trial, calling him a “persuasive, coherent and credible witness.”
But, more importantly, Bruce Fast also deserves respect as a person, the attorney said.
“He has held up extraordinarily well under a variety of pressures, including the tragedy of losing his wife, waiting two years for a trial to take place, and then when it does, having accusations and assertions made against him,” Brown said.
Brown called Roberts’ decision to implicate Bruce Fast “legally ethical.”
“But it is obviously somewhat disconcerting to hear someone who is already a victim being accused of a crime he didn’t commit,” Brown added.
Roberts did not comment on the case Tuesday. But Fury, his co-counsel at trial, said the fact that Bruce Fast immediately told authorities he suspected his son when he initially reported her disappearance still seems strange to her.
“There are a lot things about his behavior this entire time that still bother me,” Fury said.
A second theory presented by defense at trial — that Susan Fast’s jewelry found in a deodorant stick in Thomas Fast’s duffel bag confiscated on the last night anyone saw her alive could have been planted by Manatee County Sheriff’s Office officials — also drew fire Tuesday.
Sheriff Brad Steube said Roberts threw out the accusation recklessly to try get his client off, but none of the claims was based on fact.
“Shame on him,” Steube said of Roberts. “I would like to see the evidence of that. But the answer is there is none.”
Fury said the defense was not attempting to impugn the entire department in making the accusation. Instead, she said the effort was to stress to jurors that the sheriff’s office searched Thomas Fast’s duffel bag twice, and twice handled the deodorant stick, without finding the jewelry.
Not until a third search weeks later did another sheriff’s detective pick up the deodorant stick from the duffel bag, secured in a sheriff evidence locker, and immediately notice a clanging sound, Fury said.
“Either there was incompetence there or a criminal act. We put those options out to the jury for them to decide,” Fury said. “If it was incompetence, it didn’t help us. And you see with the jury’s verdict what they thought.”
Fury said the public defender’s office plans to file an appeal.
But one attorney, who analyzed Fast’s trial for several media outlets, thinks it will be shot down by a higher court.
“I think the defense did what they were supposed to do in getting him a fair trial,” said Joe Episcopo. “But some of the things they were saying were off the wall. It is very hard to get a jury to turn on the police without serious evidence. Overall, I think the trial was clean, and the defendant doesn’t have anywhere to go with an appeal.”
Robert Napper, Bradenton Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024.