Persistent mom, victim’s uncertainty lead APD to suggest robbery case be dropped
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Not everything Crystal Lord had hoped for is happening, but the Florida woman’s persistent insistence that her oldest son was innocent of taking part in a February burglary, assault and robbery in Atmore, along with the recanting of the victim’s original statement to police, have seemingly accomplished what she set out to do.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks said last week that city police are recommending to District Attorney Steve Billy that the case against Thomas “T.J.” Lord, one of two brothers charged in the burglary-assault, be dismissed.
“I’m on Cloud 9,” Ms. Lord, who has maintained since his arrest in May that police had arrested the wrong son, said by phone after learning of the decision. “This is what I wanted all along, to see my son exonerated of the charges against him.”
Brooks explained that “exoneration” is probably not the right word to use.
“He is still currently in jail (on a bond revocation),” said Brooks. “It is being reviewed by the District Attorney for consideration of dropping the charges. It’s his decision, but there are still a lot of questions that could go either way. I’m not 100 percent confident he’s not responsible, but I’m not 100 percent sure he is.”
He pointed out that the victim had recanted his initial statement during a follow-up interview, further clouding the issue of prosecution.
“It may be in the betterment of justice to (drop the charges) because I don’t know if these witnesses are going to change their story again or not,” the police chief said. “When the case first came out, there was probable cause that led to a warrant being sworn out and him being in jail. Now there’s a gray area.”
APD Sgt. Darrell McMann, who investigated the original case and conducted the follow-up interviews, said the victim, who is now behind bars in Escambia County, Fla., said he was so drug-addled that he doesn’t remember exactly who attacked him.
“He said that, at that time of his life, every morning he was snorting Zanax, shooting heroin and smoking marijuana,” the police investigator said. “In the initial report, he named Thomas Lord and Dustin Lord as the ones who robbed him and beat him up. Now he says he can’t remember who it was.”
The Lord brothers were accused of chasing and threatening the victim in the front yard of his home, then following him inside and pistol-whipping him before stealing his cash and several items of his personal property.
Crystal Lord has maintained through the past several months that her ex-husband’s son by another mother, Jeremiah Titus Lord, was actually the second person involved in the February incident. The 22-year-old has been in and out of the county jail since the robbery-assault but has not been charged in connection with it.
Thomas Lord was out on bond at the time of his May 17 arrest, charged with crimes similar to the one he is now accused of. That bond was revoked, and he has remained in the Escambia County Detention Center for the past five months.
Crystal Lord feels with a high degree of certainty that her son will soon be freed from confinement. She praised the persistence of the APD detective who followed up on her concerns.
“There’s a little snag with the bond revocation right now, but we expect him to be released from jail within the week,” she said. “I can’t say enough about Sgt. McMann and how persistent he was; he was just great. The Atmore Police Department did a great job of following up on this.”
McMann said he was just doing his job.
“I appreciate her saying that,” he replied. “But at the time (of Thomas Lord’s arrest), we went with all the information we had documented. We don’t want to put anybody in jail who doesn’t belong there.”
Brooks agreed but reiterated that he still has some nagging doubts as to the suspect’s innocence.
“This case is so wishy-washy; it’s probably going to be in the best interest of justice that the DA nolle pros (dismiss) the charges and let him out.”
Crystal Lord admitted that she just wants her son out of jail.
“He’s been in there for months,” she said. “He’s missed the last five months of his life. He’s lost his job and all his possessions. He’ll never be able to get these months of his life back, but at least he won’t be in jail much longer. Hopefully, he will be out in the next few days.”