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Man Orchestrates a Halloween Hit on Robbery Witness to Prevent Him From Testifying
“All murders are bad," John Skaggs, former Los Angeles police detective, said on Snapped. "Some are more heinous than others, and this was about as bad as it gets.”
A California father was ambushed and gunned down at his own front door on Halloween night, all to prevent him from testifying as a witness in a home invasion robbery trial.
“I mean you would have thought it came out of a scary movie, but this was real life,” Francesca Amiker, a reporter, said on Snapped. “This person wearing this costume and this hooded robe coming out of the rose bushes fired twice. You could see the blast, but you couldn’t see the impact.”
Michael Thomas was convicted of planning from jail the attack on Erik Poltorak, 42, to prevent him from testifying about the robbery at his Los Angeles home, in an all-new Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. He may not have been the actual gunman, but prosecutors said he was responsible for every part of the brutal hit.
How was Erik Poltorak murdered?
A concerned co-worker decided to check on Erik Poltorak after her calls went unanswered on the morning of Nov. 1, 2012. Around 11 a.m., she arrived at his home in Los Angeles only to discover him dead by his front door. She called 911 to say he was laying on the ground, and was “cold, dead, and covered in blood.”
Police said Poltorak had been dead for more than 10 hours by that point, after being shot in the back of the head. Nothing was disturbed or missing inside his home. He was wearing a 1920s gangster Halloween costume when he died.
“Halloween could provide a great setting for the shooter in this case to disguise his appearance and to be able to get close to Erik’s doorstep and Erik’s home without much suspicion,” Bobby Zoumberakis, prosecutor, said on Snapped.
The loving father also shared a 9-year-old daughter with his ex-wife.
“Erik became a father and loved it,” Barry Poltorak, his brother, said on Snapped. “He doted over his daughter, and he was spending every moment he could with her.”
Police discovered Poltorak had surveillance cameras set up around his home, and realized he had been the victim of a home invasion robbery about one year earlier.
How was a home invasion robbery tied to Erik Poltorak's murder?
“In the fall of 2011, Erik was at his home when he got a knock on his door, and there were two men outside … they said they had a document from court that they needed to serve Erik with,” Zoumberakis said.
Police said Poltorak let the two men into his home, and one pointed a gun at Poltorak and asked him for money.
“Erik was pistol whipped,” John Skaggs, former Los Angeles police detective, said on Snapped. “Tied up. And then the house was ransacked and robbed.”
Police said the two men got away with a computer, two phones, a camera, and $600 in cash. When Poltorak was able to call 911, he said he didn’t know the suspects, but said, “I’d recognize them if I saw them.”
Officers were able to get fingerprints off the fake document, left at Poltorak’s home, and they matched to a felon named Michael Thomas. Although Poltorak recognized Thomas in a lineup, the other suspect in the robbery was never found.
In August 2012, Thomas, who was on probation at the time of the crime, was charged in the robbery, and Poltorak was set to testify against him at trial. His family said he was apprehensive about testifying.
“He was very paranoid about being robbed again,” Barry Poltorak said. “On the Sunday before he died, Erik was talking to me about testifying in open court, and would the defendant know who was testifying against him, where he lived, and if he was entitled to witness protection.”
He never got the chance to testify in the pre-trial hearing scheduled for Dec. 2, 2012. In surveillance video found at Poltorak’s home, he could be seen walking his friends from his home out to their cars around 2 a.m. on Nov. 1. They had been at a Halloween carnival in West Hollywood. As he walked back to his front door, someone in a mask and robe ran out from the bushes and shot him.
“Knowing that Erik Poltorak was supposed to be the key witness in this pre-trial hearing against Michael Thomas, police now have a suspect, right?” Amiker said. “Because that would have been the motive to get rid of him.”
As Thomas was in jail at the time of the murder, police knew he wasn’t the gunman. Still, Thomas was a dangerous criminal.
“When it came to Michael Thomas, it was as if he feared nothing and nobody,” Amiker said. “I mean, he would threaten police officers and while he was in jail, he stabbed someone with a shank.”
Who else was involved in Erik Poltorak's murder?
The LAPD worked with the sheriff’s office to pull all of Thomas’ phone recordings from jail. As they suspected, several of his calls were alarming.
“Well, since I’m not out there, then somebody else has got to fight this case for me on the streets,” Thomas said in one call. “They gotta make this all, this [expletive] got to disappear.”
In another call, he was recorded as saying, “If the person doesn’t come, you know, if the person’s not there, then it goes away. But that’s the only way I’m going to be cleared.”
Visitor logs showed the man on the other end of the recorded calls was 23-year-old Allen Williams, the boyfriend of Michael Thomas’ 20-year-old niece, Jessicha Thomas.
In another call that raised red flags, on the morning of Nov. 1, Michael Thomas called his 49-year-old girlfriend, Yvonne Keith, and she told him happily, “everything is wonderful” and “everything is gravy.”
After Poltorak’s murder, Williams visited Thomas in jail, and Thomas was recorded as saying to him, “We’ll always remember the first motherf-cking, the first hit ever.”
“Throughout the conversation, they’re both laughing,” Zoumberakis said. “It was a very kind of cold, callous response to what had occurred.”
Jessicha Thomas also visited her uncle after the murder, and Michael Thomas was recorded as asking her, “Was you up close and personal? You confirmed it? Really? You did?” Jessicha nodded in response.
Williams, Jessicha Thomas, and Keith were all arrested.
Williams ended up confessing to a jailhouse informant, and Jessicha Thomas quickly began confessing to police under questioning. She described herself as the lookout for the Poltorak murder, and admitted Williams was the gunman. She described how they threw the gun in the ocean after the crime, and said carrying out the hit on Halloween was deliberate.
“[She said] they would fit in if they were wearing masks, and that was the perfect night to have a mask for a disguise,” Skaggs said.
Jessicha Thomas and Yvonne Keith were put in the same cell, their conversations recorded.
“I can’t believe we did this,” Jessicha lamented to Yvonne Keith.
Keith also regretted her role in what happened, pinning it on Michael Thomas.
“I should have said [expletive] it,” Keith said. “But, we all trying to please your uncle. 'Cause we all love him … don’t want to see him in there for the rest of his life. And we got caught.”
Police and family all agree Michael Thomas took advantage of his co-conspirators.
“I feel like she was manipulated into something that was not her character,” Jetta Ball, Jessicha Thomas’ aunt, said on Snapped. “I was thinking, my niece is not in jail for nothing serious, because she’s not capable of really doing too much.”
Both Williams and Keith were found guilty by juries in October 2015 of murder and received life sentences without the possibility of parole.
After agreeing to testify against her uncle, Jessicha Thomas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She’s eligible for parole in 2025.
In September 2016, a jury found Michael Thomas guilty.
“Michael Thomas is the worst,” Zoumberakis said. “The worst of the worst. You think you’ve realized where the bottom of society is, and then you see the Michael Thomases of the world, and realize whatever that bar was is lower. He never showed any kind of remorse. [He] was the architect of every part of it.”
The jury recommended the death penalty for Thomas. He’s still on death row in California. The state hasn’t executed an inmate since 2006.
“I think about it all the time,” Barry Poltorak said. “And his daughter … it’s sad that he’s missing his daughter growing up and going to high school and graduating and college and the whole thing.”
Watch Snapped on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen, and the next day on Peacock.