Family and friends: No way Thames is a killer
The Grand Junction family of a man convicted in the rape and murder of a Fort Collins woman in 1989, who now is accused of committing a similar slaying in Palisade in 1994, insist he’s innocent on both counts.
“We thought we had a chance of getting him out of prison,” said Redlands resident Sandy Gifford, mother of 39-year-old Douglas Thames Jr.
Gifford, and Thames’ grandmother, June Gifford, 76, allege dark motives on the part of law enforcement in bringing charges against their son in Jacie Taylor’s 1994 murder in Palisade.
“The same lawyers, same investigators are doing the same thing to Doug they did to the other boy (Tim Masters),” June Gifford said.
Mesa County prosecutors last week obtained an arrest warrant, alleging first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder and first-degree sexual assault, against Thames in connection with Taylor’s murder. The same DNA-testing effort that implicated Thames also exonerated 51-year-old Robert Dewey, nearly 16 years into a life prison sentence for Taylor’s murder.
Sandy Gifford said there’s “no chance” authorities have the right man in Taylor’s murder the second time around.
“No way,” Gifford said. “Anybody who knows Doug knows there’s no way he could ever be involved in something like this.”
The Fort Collins Police Department in August 1995 obtained a warrant for Thames, and he was arrested in Mesa County in connection with the 1989 murder of a Fort Collins woman, Susan Doll. She was found dead in the bathtub of her home and was strangled. A break in the case came in July 1995 when 13 pairs of women’s underwear were found by a furnace repairman, hidden in ductwork at Thames’ former apartment in Fort Collins.
The Daily Sentinel reported Aug. 5, 1995, that the underwear was tested, and bodily fluids matching those from the scene of Doll’s murder were found.
The story also suggested Mesa County authorities had biological evidence from Thames. Two weeks prior to his arrest, a Mesa County judge ordered Thames to undergo testing to see if his fluids matched those at the scene in Fort Collins. They did, the newspaper reported.
Thames was 16 at the time of Doll’s murder. Sixteen years after Thames was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the case, his family maintains he had nothing to do with the murder.
Sandy Gifford said they offered an alibi to police: Thames was on a family camping trip in Wyoming at the time of the slaying. Their proof was a family photo showing Doug on the trip, she said.
The Giffords believe their case for Thames’ innocence is bolstered by the roster of law enforcement authorities who were involved in Doll’s 1989 murder investigation. Chief among them is then-Police Sgt. Jim Broderick, the Fort Collins detective who remains under indictment for alleged misconduct in Tim Masters’ prosecution.
Masters was exonerated in 2011 by DNA testing after serving 10 years in prison for Peggy Hettrick’s 1987 murder in Fort Collins.
When asked about the DNA evidence alleged against Thames in Taylor’s murder, Sandy Gifford replied, “I don’t believe anything the police say because I know it’s fabricated.”
She continued, speaking about the Doll murder, “If it was a case where I knew my son did it, I could accept him being where he is. But knowing he’s innocent is hard to accept.”
June Gifford said she has spent essentially her entire life saving money to hire attorneys for Thames’ appellate review.
The arrest warrant affidavit in Taylor’s death said Thames’ DNA matched a semen stain on a blanket found in Taylor’s Palisade apartment, in addition to DNA found in scrapings underneath Taylor’s fingernails, a dog leash used to strangle her and soap bars, which had been inserted inside her body.
Thames told investigators he doesn’t know how his DNA could be in the apartment and denied knowing Taylor, although he said his girlfriend from 1994, Becky Golden, attended Palisade High School with Taylor.
A series of witnesses, however, said Thames and Golden did have contact with Taylor, and the couple might have attended “kegger” parties with Taylor in the desert north of Grand Junction, according to the affidavit.
Thames and Golden lived at 870 Inness Court, “two to three buildings down” from Taylor’s apartment, the affidavit said.
Thames was arrested on suspicion of trespassing a vehicle, second-degree burglary and larceny in Mesa County in November 1990, and he was arrested in 1992 on suspicion of aiding escape and trespassing, according to CBI records.
Thames and Golden were engaged for four years, but the relationship ended after Thames was sentenced to prison in 1996, according to Sandy Gifford.
Thames married another woman after being sentenced to prison and has a child, with whom he has no contact, Gifford said. The family moved between Fort Collins and Grand Junction several times, the last time in the early 1990s because of health concerns with Thames’ grandfather, Gifford said.
Thames attended Poudre Valley High School in Fort Collins, but he dropped out before graduation to pursue a career as a mechanic, Gifford said. Thames never knew his father, she added.
Thames later earned a GED and worked in the early 1990s for an extended period at a Clifton auto repair shop, she said. Thames’ childhood awards and trophies — he raced BMX bicycles as well as radio-control cars — were still standing Tuesday on the living room shelves of Sandy Gifford’s Redlands home.
Thames apparently is an aspiring artist. The family Tuesday displayed a series of detailed works, including pencil sketches and other offerings made by him before and during prison.
Sally Wilkerson, an ex-girlfriend of Thames, said he was “one of the good guys” and their breakup during her 1992 senior year at Central High School was so devastating it plunged her into drug use for a period of time.
During work or during down time, Thames worked on cars or motorcycles, she said.
“He was always the one who’d run out and protect a girl that a guy was manhandling,” Wilkerson said.