New Evidence Emerges in Decades-Old Tholmer Case

Lionell Tholmer at Mule Creek State Prison. (Courtesy of Lionell Tholmer)

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.

Then Tholmer 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.

Both cases were connected and heavily relied on the testimony of Sacramento Police Lieutenant John Kane.

Last January, a Placer County judge found good cause to have an evidentiary hearing and a re-examination of Tholmer’s case.

Some of the evidence acquired reveals that judges in both cases seemingly relied on false testimony by Lt. Kane and documents showing this was withheld by prosecutors.

The documents state that in a Placer County Superior Court on November 13, 1986, at a hearing to suppress a December 14, 1985, statement by Tholmer to Lt. Kane, Judge Richard Gilbert mentioned there were issues pertaining to how and when Lt. Kane was contacted and involved in the case.

“As I see the issues in the case there’s a major factual resolution as to whether or not the contact that Mr. Kane had was or was not precipitated by a request from Mr. Tholmer.”

Under testimony, Lt. Kane explained how he and Tholmer communicated.

“We had an active undercover sting operation going on in Sacramento, and I, with several other officers, was on pager stand-by. So anytime Lionel needed to get hold of me, he called the pager number or the detective division clerk, and I would call him back. I usually didn’t know where he was hanging out and where he could be reached, so he was always calling me.”

Judge Gilbert found that the specific method by which Lt. Kane was contacted by Tholmer was consistent with previous methods by which Tholmer got ahold of Lieutenant Kane.

That being through his mother’s telephone.

“There was no evidence that Lieutenant Kane was otherwise aware of the Defendant’s arrest other than the communication to him on Saturday,” Gilbert said.

Yolo County Superior Court Judge James Stevens held that Lieutenant Kane, by his testimony, stated that he had no intention of going up and seeing him on the 14th until he got the telephone call.

“That is, he had no contact that would lead him to go up there. He was, by his testimony, at home when the call came through to his office,” Stevens said.

December 10, 1985 report by Lt. John Kane. (Courtesy of Lionell Tholmer)

This contradicts evidence obtained, in a report by Lt. Kane on December 10, 1985, where Kane claims to have been contacted by Sacramento County Deputy Larry Bowler.

Kane said in his report that Bowler called him needing his help to arrest Tholmer. Four days before when Kane claimed to have first contacted Tholmer.

Realizing Kane was giving false statements and that there must be evidence to show that, Tholmer asked Defense Attorney Bill Lipschultz to present all the evidence to the court.

“He is making certain comments on the evidence that in his view I may not be bringing out all the witnesses, and he wants to make a record of that,” Lipschultz said.

The judge agreed to allow Tholmer to make those comments.

“I would just urge, Mr. Tholmer, that I would hope that you would take whatever advice your Counsel gives you with respect to whether or not that would be helpful or harmful ultimately to your position in the court,” Gilbert said.

“Basically, what I’d like to know is that here at this hearing or any other time I think under the State Constitution don’t I have a right to have,” Tholmer said. “There have been witnesses here against me, and I should be allowed to have all the witnesses on my behalf here at any part of the trial or court proceeding.”

Tholmer was speaking about witnesses pertaining to this hearing and these facts in this case that the judge was not given by prosecutors of his defense attorney.

“It certainly is. Generally speaking, anybody charged with a crime has the right to bring into court any witness to testify on their behalf that’s appropriate,” Judge Gilbert said.

Tholmer asked what standing would he have had if he objected to having this hearing end or letting the attorneys give their closing arguments without being allowed to present witnesses crucial to some of the statements that were made in the courtroom.

Judge Gilbert told Tholmer that, when represented by an attorney, a defendant can’t say anything.

“I can require that everything be done on your behalf be done through your attorney,” Gilbert said. “And what I am telling you is I don’t like to play hardball and say ‘shut up,’ because I like people to feel a little more comfortable about that.”

Tholmer believes the judge failed to allow Tholmer to file a Marsden motion.

Marsden motions are legal documents prepared by the defendant and filed under the court according to the defendant trying to seek the removal of the court-appointed attorney or people’s public defender. The Marsden motion is the only way that a defendant can fire his court-appointed lawyer.

Tholmer is due at an evidentiary hearing on Wednesday, August 3.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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