Corey DeanThomas had four violent felonies to his name when mandated to AA meetings. In 2009, he attacked another woman with a box cutter and scarred her for life. He also threatened to murder the entire family, and ran after a 14 year old. The courts knew who they were dealing with when they sent him to AA meetings. He finally carried out his threats of murder on a woman he met at an AA meeting in October 2011. She left behind 2 children.
St. Paul: For strangling ‘best friend,’ 34 years in prison
In his anger, the St. Paul man strangled the 27-year-old mother of two and stuffed her body into a crawl space of her apartment.
“All you had to do was be a man and walk away,” Neely’s mother, Terri Neely, said in Ramsey County District Court at his sentencing.
Thomas spent several hours after her death responding on her cellphone to texts from family and friends wondering where she was. He pretended he was Neely.
Thomas pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder. He was sentenced Tuesday, Dec. 11, to 34 years in prison, the maximum the judge could give him under the plea agreement.
Family and friends of Neely nodded and murmured “Thank you” as the sentence was pronounced. Many were in tears.
Judge Kathleen Gearin also gave Thomas, 32, credit for the 422 days he has served in custody since the October 2011 murder. She ordered him to pay $7,800 in funeral and burial expenses.
When it was his turn to speak, Thomas unfolded a sheet of yellow paper. He apologized to Neely’s family for what he called a “horrible tragedy.”
“I lost my best friend, and I’m sorry for taking her away,” he said in court.
He said during his Oct. 22 plea hearing that he and Neely had met at an AA meeting. They had been dating about three months and moved in together.
On the last day of her life, they argued over a cellphone that he had bought for her. The argument turned violent.
Though he pleaded guilty, Thomas wrote in a letter to Gearin after the plea that Neely’s death was an accident, said prosecutor Yasmin Mullings.
It was anything but, Mullings said, noting that Thomas had four violent felonies to his name. In a 2009 case, he attacked another woman with a box cutter and scarred her for life, the prosecutor said. She survived, probably thanks to the intervention of her stepfather, whom Thomas also cut, Mullings said.
If Neely’s death was an accident, she said, why didn’t he get help for her when he knew he had gone too far?
Not only did Thomas respond to texts from her loved ones as if he were Neely, “he goes so far as to talk to her 10-year-old daughter and tell her he didn’t know where her mother is,” Mullings said. “He tells her she’s probably with another man.”
He then sold his car and boarded a Greyhound bus to Miami, telling his brother that he wanted to turn his life around. He was “tired of Minnesota women,” he said, according to the criminal complaint.
Police arrested him the day he arrived in Miami. Thomas had scratches on his neck and arm. Investigators found Thomas’s DNA under Neely’s fingernails.
Police were called to Neely’s apartment in the 400 block of North Milton Street in St. Paul on Oct. 15, 2011. She and her sister had arranged to take their children to ValleyScare, a Halloween event, but she wasn’t answering her phone. Police searched the apartment but did not find her.
Officers returned Oct. 17 after her family became increasingly concerned. They found her body that afternoon in the crawl space.
Neely left behind two daughters, ages 10 and 1.
Neely’s sister, Samantha Neely, spoke to the court through a letter read by Mullings. Samantha Neely had to pick up the 10-year-old after school Oct. 17. The girl was expecting her mother and asked why her aunt was there instead.
“Change of plans,” Samantha Neely responded.
“I was not prepared to tell her that her mother was murdered,” she said.
At the close of the hearing, Thomas’s mother stood up. “Your honor?” she called. A county staff person told her she was not allowed to talk. Outside the courtroom, Connie Thomas of Chicago said she wanted to ask the judge if she could tell her son she loved him. She wanted him to know she was there.
She also said she wished to express her condolences to Neely’s family.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.