LOS ANGELES — An ex-con has been convicted of the murder of an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped more than three decades ago while walking home from school in Inglewood.
A downtown Los Angeles jury deliberated about three hours Thursday before convicting Edward Donell Thomas, 53, of Pomona, of first-degree murder for the May 24, 1990, death of William Tillett.
Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a kidnapping, but could not unanimously agree on a second special circumstance allegation — murder while lying in wait.
The boy was kidnapped just before 3 p.m. that day in the area of Imperial Highway and Crenshaw Boulevard while walking home from Kew Elementary School.
Authorities did not determine a motive for the crime.
“We don’t know if he was forcibly taken off the street or lured into the vehicle,” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors Wednesday in her closing argument.
The boy was found unresponsive and not breathing just before 10 p.m. that night in a carport in a residential neighborhood in Hawthorne. He had been suffocated and his hands and feet were bound with duct tape, according to the deputy district attorney.
“The family’s been waiting for many years,” the prosecutor told the jury. “Science finally caught up with the defendant.”
She noted that DNA testing on the boy’s pants discovered “touch DNA” — presumably from skin cells — that was linked to Thomas’ DNA profile and that had “persisted and remained and survived for 30 years.”
The prosecutor contended that the only reasonable explanation for the DNA was Thomas making direct contact with the boy.
Thomas’ DMV application in July 1989 indicated that he was living in Gardena, just under two miles away from where the boy’s body was left, according to Silverman.
Defense attorney Rodolfo Navarro countered that his client “did not kidnap, kill or do any lying in wait.”
“In this case, the people’s case is full of holes,” Thomas’ attorney told jurors.
Navarro told jurors that there were other ways, including secondary transfer, that Thomas’ DNA could have gotten on the boy’s pants.
The defense lawyer said there was “no evidence that Mr. Thomas kidnapped William or aided and abetted the killing,” and that no one identified Thomas as one of the two men who were seen in a silver Datsun shortly before the body was dumped.
He suggested a theory that someone else kidnapped and killed the boy and then called his client to dump the body — something for which his client was not charged.
Thomas — whom the prosecutor said had a silver 1979 Datsun 280Z at the time — was arrested in February 2019 by Inglewood police. He has remained behind bars since then.
Thomas pleaded no contest to a separate charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing set April 20 before Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench.
A second man is also suspected of being involved in the crime, but there is no admissible evidence linking him to the killing, the prosecutor said after the verdict.