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The one that got away 

Who killed Kim Thomas?

Attorney Richard S. Gordon considers what happened to Dr. Edward Friedland to be one of the "atrocities" perpetrated by our justice system, right up there with the Duke lacrosse case and the Little Rascals Day Care case.

That's a strong statement coming from Gordon, the Mecklenburg County assistant district attorney who once prosecuted Friedland for murder and now insists that Friedland got a raw deal. Eighteen years ago, Friedland was charged with the slaying of his 32-year-old wife, Kim Thomas, a crime that dominated the Charlotte media for months and made national news.

But when Gordon got to court to face Friedland's attorney, he got the shock of his career. Evidence in the case that Gordon says he wasn't shown pointed not to Friedland, but to Marion Gales, a petty criminal with a history of violence against women who had done yard work for Thomas and on another occasion assaulted another woman on the street where Thomas and Friedland lived. The first time Gordon says he learned of the other evidence against Gales was from Friedland's attorney in court.

"At no time prior to Friedland's indictment did the police turn over to me the evidence they had which pointed specifically to Marion Gales as a suspect in Kim Thomas' murder," Gordon wrote in an e-mail he sent to me in July. "The existence of a possible perpetrator other than Friedland was exculpatory as to him, and the police should have made me aware of this but did not."

"The defense lawyer was the one who had to reveal to me what the police had in their possession all along," Gordon wrote about the evidence, which was obtained by a private investigator.

The case is a tangled one, with botched crime scene investigative work and a legal battle between Friedland and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officials, who once sued Friedland in an attempt to block him from telling his story on former Creative Loafing writer Jerry Klein's show on WBT.

Gordon later dismissed the charges against Friedland, who has spent the last two decades trying to clear his name.

Friedland subsequently won a $8.6 million judgment in a civil suit against Gales, who a jury believed was guilty of Thomas' murder.

But the case still bothers Gordon, and last month's arrest of Gales for the killing of Lacoya Monique Martin, 27, once again dredged up the past.

In the e-mail, Gordon claims that he was later fired from the prosecutor's office after he was pressured to testify in a way that was favorable to the office and to police in Friedland's civil suit against the police department.

All of these are troubling charges from a man once deemed competent enough to prosecute one of Charlotte's biggest murder cases. But there's more. After the charges against Friedland were dropped, no other leads in the case were pursued and the question of who murdered Thomas was left unanswered. Gales, whose involvement in the murder remains unknown, has since racked up a rap sheet of violence and theft that is pages long.

Friedland, who now lives in Florida, recently published an op-ed in The Charlotte Observer once again pleading with the police and prosecutors to reinvestigate the Thomas case in light of the charges against Gales, a man local authorities once agreed was incapable of Thomas' murder. That's telling behavior from Friedland. Why would a guilty man who got away with murder want the evidence in the case re-examined with more modern technology?

The police department's public relations folks continue to push a narrative about the fantastic job their cold case detectives are doing solving old homicides. The department has had remarkable success with old cases, and it is time they took a serious look at this one. The public deserves to know the truth. If police botched the original investigation so badly that the truth is unknowable, that needs to come out, too.

Whether it ever will is questionable. The city, which oversees the police department, spent millions defending itself against Friedland's lawsuit accusing officials of maliciously targeting him. The department and the city have a built-in disincentive to get at the truth, because if it isn't one in which Friedland is guilty, they'll end up with mud, or in this case blood, on their face. Eighteen years might not be enough time between then and now for that embarrassment to have faded enough for an impartial look to be taken at the case.

But this shouldn't be about the police and prosecutors. It should be about Thomas, who was the real victim here.

"There," Gordon wrote in the e-mail. "I've finally gotten all this off my chest and out of my system. Of course, I'm under no illusions that anyone gives a damn about it, but ... that's OK. I finally did the right thing."

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