Man gets life sentence again in Hammond gun shop murder
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org August 5, 2013 11:10PM
Updated: September 7, 2013 6:15AM
A Hammond man was sentenced to life in prison for the second time in the 2000 murder of a Hammond gun shop owner.
U.S. District Judge James Moody handed down the sentence Monday afternoon after hearing more than four hours of testimony and evidence, including various family videos showing the victim, Frank Freund Sr., taking his grandchildren on tractor rides and fire truck rides, enjoying his son’s wedding and also opening homemade birthday cards.
The defendant, Keon Thomas, 37, had initially been sentenced to life in prison a decade ago after a federal jury found he and his co-defendant, Styles Taylor, entered Freund’s Hammond shop, Firearms Unlimited, on March 20, 2000, to rob the store and then shot Freund Sr. to death.
The conviction was overturned, however, after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the jury had been improperly selected. Another federal jury at the U.S. District Court in Hammond found Thomas and Taylor guilty again in May 2012.
Freund’s daughter-in-law, Diana Freund, spoke Monday of how she, her husband and children had visited her father-in-law at his shop shortly before the shooting.
Freund Sr. had tried to talk them into staying to have lunch, but the family ultimately left.
They had gone only a mile when they got a call from the Hammond Fire Department, where Frank Freund Jr. works, that a call had come in from his father’s shop. The family at first thought Freund Sr. had a heart attack until they saw the blood.
Now, she testified, she struggles to remember the good memories of Freund Sr., who bought property near Hebron for his family to enjoy on the weekends and two firetrucks to please his grandkids, because she remembers “stepping over the blood, the bone chips on the counter.”
One of Freund Sr.’s daughters, Margaret Barlog, testified the family actually started poor and that Freund worked hard as a truck mechanic to provide for his six children. It wasn’t until he and his wife bought the gun shop that he was able to afford more things for them.
“There was not a time that he saw someone in need and didn’t try to help them,” she said, asking Thomas what kind of legacy he is leaving behind for his son.
Thomas apologized to both his family and Freund’s, although he did not say he was guilty of the murder.
He spoke of stories not being portrayed correctly, although it was not clear if he was speaking of evidence connected to the criminal case or stories about his past. He did say that he wished he could change many things he has done and asked for the Freund family’s forgiveness.
“I can continue to talk to the end of time, but it’s not going to change why we’re here,” he said.
Thomas’ attorney Paul Stracci argued for a reduced sentence of 30 years for his client, noting that Thomas had grown up in a family with a long history of abuse. Caryn Platt-Tatelli, a former forensic social worker, testified that both Thomas’ mother and father were drug addicts and that Thomas’ mother, who he grew up with, would often beat him with extension cords, brooms and other items. He also watched her be beaten by various boyfriends, including one who would chase her with a hammer, hatchet and other weapons.
His father was stabbed to death when he was a young teenager right around the time when two close friends also died violent deaths. Platt-Tatelli said he also started dealing drugs after his mother moved in with a marijuana dealer.
His son, Keon Thomas Jr., told Moody that although he has not spent much time with his father because Thomas Sr. has been in prison most of his life, he often hears from his father, who encourages him to go to college and to make the right decisions in life.
“He wanted me to not fail in life, not fall into a trap because he wasn’t there with me,” Thomas Jr. said.
Stracci argued his client had grown during his past 13 years in prison and that he had tried to change his life shortly before Freund’s murder by trying to move away from Hammond and the people there who he eventually committed the crime with, including Taylor. He was out on parole, however, and the parole board denied his request to move.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson fought for the life sentence, however, noting that Thomas had already committed two other violent crimes, including smashing his son’s mother’s head to the ground, for which he was granted a sentence of probation, and then robbing a fast food restaurant in Hammond at gunpoint where he ordered the employees and customers into a freezer while he was serving that probation. He had recently been let out of prison and was on parole when he and Taylor killed Freund.
“The system didn’t fail Keon Thomas; he failed himself,” Benson said. “...If anything, the system failed Frank Freund.”
He also argued that although evidence shows Taylor was the actual shooter, evidence shows that Thomas is likely the one who got the murder weapon from a friend, along with the car they used.
Along with denying Thomas’ request for less than life in prison, Moody also ordered him to pay restitution to Freund’s family members in the amount of $11,275.