Judge orders police to release DNA testing results to family in Kim Thomas murder case

The answer to a 33-year-old Charlotte murder mystery — who killed Kim Thomas? — may be a step closer to being solved after a Mecklenburg County judge on Monday ordered police to release all completed DNA testing in the case.

For now, the public will not be privy to the new information from Charlotte’s most harrowing unsolved killing.

Instead, Superior Court Judge George Bell limited the release of the DNA testing results to the victim’s extended family and their attorneys. Under Bell’s order, the general public won’t get access until Dec. 31.

The judge’s decision came in response to a highly unusual legal move by veteran Charlotte defense attorney David Rudolf, who believes the new information will exonerate Dr. Ed Friedland, Thomas’ former husband and Rudolf’s one-time client.

Four years after Thomas was found handcuffed and brutally slashed to death inside her home, Friedland was charged with his wife’s murder. The charge was later dropped and never refiled — forcing Friedland to live under a cloud of suspicion for almost three decades, Rudolf told Bell.

As first reported by The Charlotte Observer, Rudolf said an unnamed Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police detective told him in November that investigators had obtained a positive DNA match at the murder scene with Marion Gales.

Gales, a now-60-year-old career criminal who did day jobs for Thomas in the weeks leading up to her death and who was later sent to prison for killing another woman, has long been linked to Thomas’ murder but never charged.

After learning of the new test results last year, Rudolf reached out to CMPD attorney Jessica Battle asking her to release the findings to Friedland and Thomas’ family under a protective order, according to emails shared with the Observer.

Battle refused, saying that a cold case investigation into Thomas’ death remained active and ongoing, emails show.

Battle made the same arguments in court Monday, claiming that a release of DNA results now could compromise investigative leads and undermine a future prosecution if a new arrest is made. She told Bell that DNA collected from the case had been tested as recently as late November.

Bell ordered the limited release anyway. His decision to keep the general public from seeing the results for the next 10 months was designed to give police time to complete any ongoing DNA testing in the case.

During his argument before the judge, Rudolf said Friedland has been the victim of “police misconduct” during the early years of the investigation; that investigators not only failed to act on evidence that pointed strongly towards Gales, they also withheld it from the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, which dropped the charges against Friedland in 1995.

After the hearing, Rudolf told the Observer that he expects the most recent DNA evidence to point towards Gales. It remains unclear whether the DNA is newly discovered or existing evidence undergoing improved testing technology.

Rudolf said the location of the DNA could be pivotal.

“If it was found on the kitchen counter, that’s one thing,” he said. “If it was found on the body or Kim’s clothing or on the handcuffs, that’s a whole different story.”

Two suspects

Thomas, a 32-year-old Charlotte activist, doctor’s wife and mother, was found inside her Cotswold home on July 27, 1990.

She was handcuffed with her hands behind her back, her throat repeatedly slashed, her 10-month-old son in his crib nearby.

Her death — and CMPD’s prolonged failure to find her killer — has reverberated through the city for decades.

“The people of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County deserve to know who actually killed Kim Thomas, and why Marion Gales was allowed by the CMPD to avoid responsibility for the crime, which allowed him to commit additional crimes,” Rudolf said in his filing to force police to release the DNA testing.

Friedland, he wrote, “should be provided the evidence he needs to finally clear his name and reputation: the DNA evidence linked to Marion Gales.”

Members of Thomas’ family eventually came to suspect Friedland was the killer.

After learning of the court order releasing the DNA testing to her family, Lynn Thomas, the victim’s sistersaid she expects the results “would lead the police to make an arrest.”

Asked in a follow-up email on whom she expected to be charged, Thomas did not respond.

In response to an Observer inquiry in December, CMPD said this:

“This case is assigned to our Cold Case Unit. As with any other case, the Unit continues to use new technology to test evidence collected from the scene. As a result of this technology, detectives have developed additional leads to look at in this investigation. Because this case is still open, we cannot comment on what that evidence is at this time.”

CMPD said at the time, however, that it would respect “any order from the Court pertaining to a release of information.”

Rudolf told Bell that the release of DNA information would not affect a 32-year investigation in which witness testimony and other evidence has already been gathered and a key suspect is behind bars.

Friedland to be exonerated?

Friedland, now 66, said in December that the new DNA test results could prove his innocence at last.

“This new piece of information that could be very, very important has been dropped into our laps,” he told the Observer in a phone interview from Florida, where he has lived since leaving Charlotte in 1998.

“The record needs to be set straight. I’ve had to go through my entire life with this cloud over my head. It’s about solving the crime. But it’s also about me being a crime suspect.”

“… If I sound angry, who wouldn’t be?”

Investigative files released to the Observer in 2003 revealed that detectives had gathered significant amounts of circumstantial evidence against Friedland but found no scientific proof linking him to his wife’s murder.

One of the police findings had been that Thomas’ death had been so savage, the wounds so concentrated around her throat, that the attack could not have been the product of a drug-induced rage. Instead, detectives concluded, the nature of the killing suggested a relationship between Thomas and her murderer.

According to Rudolf, police initially considered Gales a serious suspect. That changed, the attorney says, when detectives received a tip that at the time of Thomas’ killing, Friedland was involved in a two-year affair with a nurse.

“That completely turned the police around. They completely ignored Marion Gales after that. They have mishandled this case ever since,” Rudolf told the Observer in December.

“Having an affair doesn’t make you a murderer. They had all this evidence against Gales. They were pursuing that evidence, and then they just stopped. Why just drop it?”

In 2010, CMPD announced it had discovered new evidence in the case. Later that year, a CMPD attorney acknowledged that the “person of interest” being investigated at that time was not Friedland, and that the investigation “does not involve Dr. Friedland has a suspect.”

In 1997, during a trial of Friedland’s lawsuit, a Mecklenburg jury found Gales responsible for Thomas’ death and ordered him to pay the physician $8.5 million in damages.

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