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Idaho Supreme Court to review N. Idaho strangling conviction

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LEWISTON, Idaho — The Idaho Supreme Court will decide if a new trial is needed for a former Nez Perce County Sheriff's deputy convicted of strangling his ex-wife.

The court after hearing arguments on Monday decided to consider a petition to review the first-degree murder conviction of Joseph Thomas Jr., the Lewiston Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/12tuWOy).

Thomas was convicted in December 2011 of strangling Beth Irby-Thomas and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Irby-Thomas was found dead with a belt around her neck on May 1, 2011. Thomas testified he had sex with her that night and that she was alive when he left.

The key issue at trial was whether Thomas murdered his wife by strangulation, or whether she accidentally strangled herself. Thomas' appeal is based on the district court not allowing defense attorneys to put forward a theory that Irby-Thomas inadvertently strangled herself while engaged in the solitary practice of autoerotic asphyxiation, an act in which individuals seek a thrill by choking themselves into unconsciousness.

State appellate public defender Sara B. Thomas argued Monday that prosecutors misled the jury and that the court denied the defendant his right to display evidence needed for his defense.

"Despite knowing otherwise, the state hinted to jurors that only the defense team claimed (the victim) engaged in this practice," she said. "The court prevented Mr. Thomas from putting on critical evidence to support his defense and to lend credibility to his version of the facts."

Evidence of autoerotic asphyxiation was excluded from the trial, 2nd District Judge Michael Griffin ruled, because there was no clear evidence to show that Irby-Thomas engaged in the practice.

"Finding that this is fair and this is harmless does not promote justice," attorney Thomas said.


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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