BRADENTON — A jury didn’t buy a defense theory that Thomas Fast was framed by his father.
It also didn’t believe that sheriff’s investigators planted key evidence.
Instead the panel ruled late Monday that Thomas Fast committed first-degree murder in the killing and dismembering of his stepmother, Susan Fast, in June 2007.
Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. sentenced him to life in prison without parole after the jury found him guilty.
After sentencing, Fast walked past his father, Bruce Fast, and brother, Richard Fast, and glanced in their direction. Bruce Fast looked on as his son left the courtroom for a holding cell.
The elder Fast said it would be the last time he would see his son, saying he had no plans to visit him in prison. He said seeing his son walk out in shackles brought him a sense of relief and sadness.
“I feel a great deal of relief,” Bruce Fast said. “But I also feel a great sadness. I am sad to see his life end this way.”
Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Fury said the defense planned to file an appeal, but declined further comment.
In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown told the jury that a “meticulous” Thomas Fast tore into his stepmother’s jugular with a knife in the kitchen of her Tara home, dragged her into a bathroom, stuck her in a tub and went about the “arduous task” of cutting up her body.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies would later find Susan Fast’s body parts stuffed in garbage bags and dumped in a storm drain behind a Lakewood Ranch Publix shopping center.
Brown spoke of Thomas Fast’s mental illness, and Bruce and Susan Fast’s efforts to continue to make him feel like part of the family.
“And he repaid their tolerance for his eccentrics and kindness by killing Susan,” Brown said.
Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts proclaimed his client’s innocence in his closing statement, saying Thomas Fast had been framed by his father and that sheriff’s officials might have planted Susan Fast’s jewelry in a deodorant stick found in Thomas Fast’s duffel bag.
Roberts’ first theory: Bruce Fast either had the “sinister motive” of framing his son because he killed his wife, or he believed his son killed his wife and was willing to do anything to make sure the evidence stacked up against him.
“The ends justify the means and I’m gonna help them,” Roberts claimed was Bruce’s motive to implicate his son.
Bruce Fast was visibly upset at the accusations.
“I had to leave the room because I wanted to stand up and yell, ‘You’re wrong.’ There were so many untruths being said I figured I better leave the room or be in contempt of court for saying something,” he said.
Roberts then said the jewelry might have been planted in Fast’s bag while it was being held in a secure evidence locker at the sheriff’s office following his arrest on a weapons charge.
“I don’t know how the jewelry got there. Planting of evidence does happen. They had very little evidence and they needed something,” Roberts said of sheriff’s investigators.
Proceedings became heated as Brown countered during rebuttal that Roberts’ theories had no “basis in fact.”
“Bruce Fast is not on trial here. The sheriff’s office is not on trial. That is the man whose actions brought us here,” Brown bellowed, pointing at Thomas Fast. “There was no planting, there was no conspiracy. This man killed Susan and left his blood behind as a calling card.”
Brown said hard evidence — Thomas Fast’s blood was found in his stepmother’s home and in her sport utility vehicle — that placed the blame on him.
The prosecutor also cited Thomas Fast’s bubbling anger at his father and stepmother that boiled over in comments to detectives and a jail cell mate, calling Susan Fast a “crack whore” and “drug addict,” and Susan and Bruce Fast “bullheaded and self-centered.”
“It shows volumes his consciousness of guilt and his awareness of his bloody deeds,” Brown said.
Thomas Fast did not take the stand in his own defense, as Roberts also worked to raise reasonable doubt with a third theory by presenting to jurors a woman who claimed she saw Susan Fast days before she disappeared.
Rhonda McElfresh said Susan Fast looked “uneasy” as an unidentified man spoke to her in a Lakewood Ranch Publix grocery store, behind where her body parts were found.
Brown argued the woman, who had only been living in the area for a couple weeks at the time, was “mistaken.”
On the stand, McElfresh was not able to establish whether her alleged sighting of Susan Fast was a few days before her disappearance or a few weeks prior to the discovery of Fast’s body.
Jurors also for the first time heard Thomas Fast’s voice on audio recordings admitting to detectives he had been the last one to see his stepmother alive.
Fast told Manatee sheriff’s detectives that he went to the Fast’s home June 29, 2007, to talk to Bruce Fast about work. When he arrived, his stepmother was vacuuming.
He said they chatted, at around 5 p.m., and he left.
“When I left everything was fine, she was smiling,” Fast said on the recording.