A Richmond man pleaded guilty Wednesday to the first-degree murder of a Napoleon Taxi cab driver in Henrico County.
By pleading to a lesser crime than the original charge of capital murder, George William Thomas, 26, will not face the possibility of being put to death. But he still faces the potential punishment of up to life imprisonment at a hearing in July. Thomas also pleaded guilty to two firearms charges, which carry mandatory prison sentences totaling eight years.
Thomas kept his head bowed during most of Wednesday’s hearing even as, behind him, prosecutors played a video from inside the taxi on Jan. 13, 2017, that showed him pulling a gun and shooting the driver, 38-year-old Antwan Lamont Brooks, once in the back of the head. Brooks had just totaled the fare, asking Thomas for $8.50.
Thomas could be seen leaping from the cab as it crashed into a vehicle parked in the 100 block of Trafton Street, a few blocks from Laburnum Avenue. The crash occurred in front of a home where Thomas had briefly lived with a cousin two years earlier, detectives later found out.
In the video, Brooks’ head lulled back, his body slumped to the side and his eyes remained open as Thomas opened the front passenger-side door taking what Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael S. Huberman said was Brooks’ backpack.
Items from the bag were scattered further down the street as Thomas apparently fled the scene, Huberman said in summarizing the evidence in the case.
Police officers were called to the scene several hours later, at 7:06 a.m., when the owner of the car that had been crashed into saw the wreckage. Brooks was pronounced dead on the scene.
The video recovered from the cab was time-stamped, but Huberman said it appeared to be five hours off, placing the shooter in the cab around 1 a.m.
Detectives recognized the shooter as Thomas, who was wanted for a robbery in Richmond and several in the county.
Two Henrico officers, the same who had responded to the initial crash, located Thomas later that day in Essex Village apartments. On him, they found a 9 mm Taurus pistol and the victim’s cellphone.
Thomas told the officers he had found the items near a dumpster in the apartment complex earlier that day. But a search of Thomas’ own phone found photos of him with the same gun, which had a laser scope attachment, a week before the shooting, Huberman said.
Thomas also told detectives he’d stayed overnight with his girlfriend, who lived in Essex Village. She told detectives she had seen him for only 20 minutes on Jan. 13 and that he had not spent the night, Huberman said.
A state forensics expert matched the empty cartridge case recovered from the backseat of Brooks’ cab and the bullet recovered during his autopsy to the Taurus gun Thomas had been carrying at the time of his arrest.
As part of a plea agreement, Huberman amended the original charge of capital murder, reducing it to first-degree murder, and dropped several other charges including robbery. The agreement did not address sentencing, leaving it to a judge’s discretion.
A sentencing hearing was set for July 14 at 1 p.m. Thomas’ attorneys said there would be substantial mitigation evidence offered in hopes of lowering his sentence.