- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Perhaps the best friend convicted murderer Jeffery Allen Thomas ever had is the mother of the teen-age girl he raped and killed.
Kitty Irwin, 51, begged a Pulaski County, Va., jury to recommend prison time instead of the death penalty for Thomas. When they disagreed, she went to Richmond and Boston to speak out against capital punishment. She even wears a silver cross around her neck that symbolizes her hope that his life be spared.
Today, Mrs. Irwin plans to pray with Thomas' family at the Grace Episcopal Church in Radford, Va. Together, the families will ask one final time for mercy from Judge Colin Gibb, who is scheduled to sentence Thomas July 9.
"People think that if the person who killed your loved one dies, you'd feel so much better," Mrs. Irwin said. "But I know it won't. It'll just make you feel so much worse."
Tara, Mrs. Irwin's 16-year-old daughter, disappeared Jan. 25, 2000, after finishing her shift at a local Taco Bell. Two months later, the Radford High School student was found dead in a ravine, sexually assaulted and shot four times.
Thomas, 31, was arrested after police matched his DNA to biological evidence found on the victim. Thomas, who was a friend of Tara's boyfriend, had smoked marijuana with her earlier on the day she died.
In March, he was convicted of capital murder, attempted rape and use of a firearm in a felony.
Mrs. Irwin said she cries every day for her daughter. But it serves no purpose to penalize Thomas by killing him, she said. Instead, Mrs. Irwin thinks it would be better to give him a life sentence, during which Thomas can think about the consequences of his actions.
"I would hope someday that Jeff and I could sit down and just talk about what happened," Mrs. Irwin said. "I personally think he really liked Tara. I think she was a friend of his. I don't think he purposely did this. Something must have terribly went wrong that he didn't anticipate."
But because of the ongoing litigation, and the appeals process that will likely follow, Mrs. Irwin said she may never get that chance.
The Rev. B. Kris Kramer, who is sponsoring the church service, said it will be the best time to publicly request that Judge Gibb ignore the jury's recommendation and sentence Thomas to life in prison.
The prayer service will be held at 7 p.m. in the 120-seat Grace Episcopal Church.

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