If exonerated, Lionell Tholmer would have spent 36 years in prison on wrongful conviction
By Robert J. Hansen
Lionell Tholmer has been in prison since 1985 after being convicted of second-degree murder by a Placer County court for killing John Meadows in what Tholmer maintains was self-defense.
He was later convicted by a Yolo County court for the murder of a West Sacramento woman Cynthia Sparpana, and the disappearance of her daughter, Danyle, without any physical evidence, with false testimony, and by an all-white jury in 1992.
Tholmer has always maintained that he is innocent and over the years has lost appeals and submitted writs of habeas corpus that were denied.
Until last month, when a Placer Judge found good cause to have an evidentiary hearing and a re-examination of Tholmer’s case.
Placer County Judge Garen Horst “found good cause,” to re-examine Tholmer’s case in light of the evidence he submitted.
Horst has given notice to the California State Attorney General Rob Bonta and Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire that the judge is reviewing the new evidence submitted by Tholmer.
Gire was unable to be reached for comment.
“The petitioner alleged new evidence affecting the veracity of the investigator in this case, Lt. John Kane, and prosecution failing to disclose evidence,” Horst said in a letter.
New evidence reveals false testimony, forged police reports, and prosecutorial misconduct to knowingly use false testimony.
“In light of the additional material provided by the petitioner and the nature of this case … the court needs additional time to review the habeas petition and issue an order, ” Horst said in the letter.
Documents obtained by Tholmer last year revealed prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence from the Sparpana trial that should not have been, according to Robert Blasier, Thomler’s attorney in the Sparpana case.
Danyel to this day has not been found and is a significant reason Tholmer has not given up his “quest for truth and justice.”
“Her family deserves to know what happened to that little girl,” Tholmer said.
Three years ago, Cynthia Sparpana’s niece and Danyel’s cousin found Tholmer’s Ted Talk on YouTube and left an anonymous comment.
“This man murdered my dad’s sister and niece, and for some weird reason, he gets to go on Ted Talk to talk about love? I don’t care what his testimony is, he murdered my aunt and cousin that I never got to meet and the event of their murder screwed up my dad and my dad has been a dysfunctional person since.” she said “This can’t change what he did. This sob story doesn’t change the way I feel about Lionell Tholmer.”
Tholmer says the government owes the truth to that woman who has been suffering all these years thinking the wrong person was responsible for her disappearance.
“I believe the government must give her some kind of resolution. I don’t want her to have that pain but I certainly don’t want her attributing that pain to me when I wasn’t the one that caused it,” Tholmer said.
Dr. Anthony Cunha
Dr. Anthony Cunha’s testimony in the Meadows case laid out a plan by Tholmer to murder Meadows with premeditation and burn him alive to hide the killing.
This testimony would later be proven to be false according to court records.
Cunha also testified in the Sparpana case and admitted his assessment in the Meadows case was inaccurate under cross-examination by defense attorney Blaiser.
“You now know after you testified the second time, the gastric contents were tested for carbon and there was no evidence of any carbon or soot in the stomach, don’t you,” Blaiser said.
“Yes,” Chuna said.
“Do you believe now that you were wrong?” Blaiser said.
“Yes,” Cunha said.
Despite this, a jury found Tholmer guilty in the Spartana case.
Ltd. John Kane
Decades later and after several requests, Tholmer also received evidence that establishes that a Sacramento PD detective, Lt. John Kane, gave perjured testimony and authored false reports which both Yolo and Placer prosecutors relied heavily on at trial.
In a report, Kane stated that Sacramento County Sheriff detective and former California Assemblymember, Larry Bowler engineered the arrest and he needed Kane’s help.
Kane’s report stated that Bowler engineered Tholmer’s arrest in Oklahoma City. Kane also testified that he was the only officer Tholmer would speak to.
Bowler testified that he knew Ltd. Kane, but did not normally work field investigations and as a Fraud Doc’s detective, did not work homicides unless there were related financial crimes to a case. Bowler reported that he never worked with or called Kane, according to documents.
“I would not normally work field investigations. I know Ltd. John Kane now retired from the Sacramento Police Department. I, however, do not recall ever co-investigating a case with him,” Bowler said.
Kane’s fabrication of a false report and false testimony was crucial to the prosecutors’ case and without it, Tholmer would not have been convicted.
Ltd. Kane’s false report and false testimony alongside Dr. Cunha’s incorrect assessment dramatically impacted the outcome of both trials.
“If it wasn’t for Kane and Cunha I wouldn’t have been convicted,” Tholmer said.
Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist.