Violent attacker shot to
death on reservation
Originally ran here
"Witnesses: Killing Self-Defense"
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
By Mike McAndrew and Erin Duggan
© 2001 The
A man who shot another man to death Tuesday
afternoon on the Onondaga Nation territory was released from custody without
being charged Tuesday night because witnesses told detectives he fired in
Anderson Johnson, 34, shot Gary O. Thomas, 33,
once with a shotgun during a fight at 12:30 p.m. inside the trailer on Route 11A
where Johnson lives, Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh said.
The district attorney's office will probably
ask a grand jury to review the evidence and decide if a crime was committed,
Johnson and Thomas were both Onondaga Nation
members. The shooting was the second homicide on the Onondaga Nation in 2½
years, and only the third slaying there in 22 years.
Witnesses told detectives that Thomas, an iron
worker who lived on the Onondaga territory, came to the trailer to confront
Jonathan Buckshot because he believed Buckshot had fought one of Thomas'
relatives, the sheriff said.
Walsh said the witnesses claimed Thomas began
assaulting Buckshot with a wood stove shovel he found on the porch of the
The witnesses said that when Johnson ordered
Thomas to stop beating Buckshot, Thomas turned toward Johnson, Walsh said.
"According to Anderson, Thomas went after him, and that's when he fired the
shot," Walsh said.
"Witnesses are saying it was self-defense.
That Gary was the aggressor. The guy who got killed had a shovel and was hitting
(Buckshot) with that. Anderson told him to drop the shovel," the sheriff
When Onondaga County deputies arrived, Thomas
was dead in Johnson's living room, with Johnson's gun resting on a kitchen table
about 10 feet away.
Detectives took Johnson to the sheriff's
headquarters and questioned him for hours before allowing him to leave Tuesday
Buckshot, who also was questioned, did not
appear to be seriously injured, Walsh said.
Walsh said it appeared that Thomas was shot
once in the chest from close range.
Dr. Mary Jumbelic, the Onondaga County medical
examiner, is expected to perform an autopsy on Thomas to determine the cause of
Thomas' widow, Michelle, and several of Thomas'
relatives declined to comment Tuesday about the shooting.
Detectives planned to meet with Thomas'
survivors Tuesday night to explain why Johnson was not charged, said Sgt. John
D'Eredita, the sheriff's department spokesman.
Late Tuesday, the sheriff's department began
searching Johnson's trailer for evidence after a judge issued a warrant that
stipulated that the detectives had to obtain permission from the Onondagas'
Onondaga chiefs gave detectives permission to
search the crime scene for evidence and to make any arrests, if necessary, Walsh
"This hasn't happened in a long time, a
shooting like this," said Sid Hill, the acting tadadaho, or spiritual
leader, of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The shooting prompted officials to postpone the
Onondaga Nation School's eighth-grade graduation ceremony, which was scheduled
Several Onondaga chiefs declined to comment on
Ronald Shenandoah, the Onondaga Nation Fire
Department chief and leader of the Onondaga Nation security patrol, said the
nation's security force had not been asked to intervene in any prior disputes
between Thomas and Johnson.
The homicide was the first on the territory
since Ronald K. Jones Sr., 64, of Route 11A, was found dead in his home Feb. 11,
1999, after firefighters extinguished a fire there. Jumbelic has ruled that
Jones died from blunt force trauma to his head, not from the fire. No one has
been arrested in connection with the Jones homicide.
Prior to the Jones case, there hadn't been a
murder on the Onondaga territory since 1979, when Bishop Raymond Oehly was
The Onondaga Nation territory has generally
been peaceful since supporters of the Council of Chiefs clashed in 1994 with
supporters of several Onondagas who owned cigarette shops on the territory. The
chiefs banished three of the business owners.
Thomas, a member of the Beaver clan, has lived
on the Onondaga territory most of his life, according to Onondagas. Described as
athletic, Thomas had fought as a boxer in the past. In recent months, he was
employed as an iron worker helping to build the nation's new lacrosse and hockey
arena. He has several children, including an infant son born in March. Thomas
lived with his family in a recently built home.
Johnson has only lived on the nation for about
two or three years, several Onondagas said.
The shooting occurred just hours after Johnson
checked in with the Onondaga County Probation Department, said Commissioner E.
Last month, Johnson, who was already on a
pre-trial release from a December arrest in Onondaga County, was arrested in St.
Lawrence County after state police accused him of possessing 15 pounds of
Johnson was granted a pre-trial release by a
county court judge in that county, instead of posting his $50,000 cash or
$100,000 bond bail, Czaplicki said, and was being supervised by Czaplicki's
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