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Palm Sunday Massacre Killer Christopher Thomas Released After 32 Years In Prison

The man behind the shooting that left 10 dead has been released from prison, despite a judge saying he should remain there for life.

By JB Nicholas

The New York City man behind the "Palm Sunday Massacre," a shooting that left 10 people dead, has been paroled from prison after serving 32 years, even though a judge said he should be behind bars for life.

Christopher Thomas, now 68, was released in January, but news of his exit did not become public until last week. He is now living in Queens.

Thomas shot and killed ten people in Brooklyn, including eight children and two young mothers, on a rainy Palm Sunday in April 1984. According to a report published in the New York Times the day after the massacre, seven of the ten victims were shot in the head and were found in a living room, on couches and chairs, with the television still on.

It looked like a wax museum,” Beau Dietl, then an NYPD detective who investigated the killings, told the New York Post in 2000. “Bodies everywhere. And then you had to grasp they were humans.”

One of the women had a dish of chocolate pudding in one hand, and a spoon in the other,” Dietl said.

According to court records, a teenaged boyfriend of one of the victims saw Thomas through a window of the house,leaning over one of the victims and heard a gunshot, although he did not see a gun.”

The house was owned by Enrique Bermudez, 34, a convicted cocaine dealer on parole, Thomas may have suspected his wife was having sex with. Bermudez found the victims, which included his pregnant girlfriend, Virginia Lopez, 24, and his two daughters, aged 10 and 14. Also dead was Carmen Perez, 20, and four children aged 14, 7, 5, 4 and 3.

The massacre’s lone survivor was an 13-month old baby girl, Christina Rivera. She was found crawling among the dead, crying and covered in blood. Later, Rivera was adopted and raised by one of the NYPD officers who found her, Joanne Jaffe, according to the New York Times.

Thomas was charged with ten counts of murder, but a jury convited Thomas only of manslaughter, finding that he acted out of an “extreme emotional disturbance.”

"It was the drugs,” the jury’s forman told the Times after the verdict.

"He had been free-basing for two years," another juror said, referring to a means of smoking cocaine. “That would make anybody emotionally disturbed.”

While Thomas was sentenced to 83 to 250 years, New York State law capped his sentence at 50 years. But a judge said he never wanted the killer to go free.

''It is this court's intention that you serve every day, every hour and every minute of the maximum sentence I impose on you,'' state Supreme Court Justice Ronald Aiello said while sentencing Thomas 

'''Don't let him out.' That is my message to the New York State Parole Board,'' Aiello added.

But, at the time, New York law automatically granted 1/3 time off maximum sentences for good behavior. That’s why Thomas was released in January – he had served 2/3 of his maximum sentence and authorities had no choice but to release him. That law has since been changed, to grant only 1/7 off of an offender’s maximum sentence for good behavior.

Thomas will be on parole for the next 17 years. 

Jaffe, the cop who adopted Rivera, told the New York Daily News, “This guy killed 10 people and I can’t believe he is free. But he is free and I hope he’s rehabilitated.”

[Courtroom sketch courtesy of the Courtroom Sketches of Ida Libby Dengrove, University of Virginia Law Library; Mugshot courtesy of New York State Parole Board]

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