BELLVILLE, Texas – A southeast Texas man was charged Wednesday in the weekend shooting deaths of five family members, including his 2-year-old niece, who also was decapitated.
Maron Thomas, 20, remains jailed on a $1 million bond, accused in the deaths of his mother, stepfather, sister, brother and niece. Police said Thomas was naked when he was caught trying to break into a neighbor's home after the shootings.
"This is one of the most horrific crimes we've had," Austin County District Attorney Travis Koehn said.
Investigators said an ongoing family dispute led to the shootings, but they declined to give additional details.
The five bodies were discovered Sunday afternoon at the family's single-story brick home in Bellville, a rural town of about 4,000 people 55 miles northwest of Houston. Police say the shootings took place early Sunday morning.
Preliminary autopsy reports indicate all five died of gunshot wounds, and the 2-year-old girl was decapitated with a machete. Her head was found near her body, Austin County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Paul Faircloth said.
A shotgun and a handgun found near the scene were both used to kill the family, Texas Ranger David Maxwell said. Authorities would not say how many times each victim was shot.
Before the capital murder charge was filed, Thomas was held on charges of breaking into a vehicle and trying to break into a home 1 1/2 miles from his family's house.
Faircloth said he didn't know whether Thomas had an attorney, and the court was not open Wednesday evening to check whether an attorney has been listed in the case. Austin County court records aren't available online.
Relatives who were at Thomas' home Wednesday declined to comment.
Faircloth said Thomas broke into a car after the shootings and was naked when a neighbor caught him trying to break into the neighbor's house about 3 a.m. Sunday. The neighbor held Thomas at gunpoint until police arrived. By then, Thomas was wearing spandex workout shorts, he said.
Thomas was taken to the county jail, where he told deputies he had killed his family, Maxwell said.
Those found inside the house were identified as Thomas' mother, Debra Washington, 54; his stepfather, George T. Washington, 69; his sister Kiana Phearse, 25; and his 2-year-old niece, Khalilah Chambers-Massey. The naked body of his brother, Cedric Thomas, 19, was found in a thick expanse of woods behind the house.
Relatives and neighbors have described the Washingtons as a friendly couple who had lived in the house with Thomas since moving from Houston about two years ago.
Koehn said the single count of capital murder covers all five slayings, but Thomas could be charged with additional counts. Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty.
Authorities took blood samples from Thomas to determine whether he might have been using drugs at the time of the shootings, Maxwell said.
Bellville drew attention in August with the shooting death of a physician during a burglary at his ranch. Two suspects were arrested days later and charged with killing Dr. Jorge Mario Gonzalez of Houston.