By Sarah Naron
CROCKETT – After being found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon Wednesday, Oct. 24, Brandon Hill was sentenced Thursday, Oct. 25 to 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) – Institutional Division and a fine of $10,000 by a jury in the 349th District Court of Anderson and Houston Counties.
Along with 75-year-old Leonard Intelisano – who was sentenced to 61 years in TDCJ after being found guilty of murder in late July – 34-year-old Hill was accused in the death of Frank Thomas, who died just over two weeks after a shooting which occurred Jan. 13, 2016 on CR 4505 in Crockett.
Hill was represented throughout the trial by Palestine-based attorney Stanley Sokolowski, who encouraged the jury during his closing arguments prior to sentencing Wednesday that “Mr. Hill should not be convicted for what Mr. Intelisano did.
“The state was charged with bringing you enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sokolowski pointed out. “And they just didn’t do it. It just wasn’t done. There’s too many contradictions. There’s too many ‘I believes.’ There’s too many ‘I thinks.’ There’s too many officers disagreeing with each other. There’s too many things that just don’t make sense.”
According to Sokolowski, Intelisano – who reportedly possessed a concealed carry permit – first shot Thomas with a shotgun before resorting to a .22 caliber handgun.
“When that shotgun that we heard had been altered – shortened – when it jammed, as shotguns tend to do, he then went to his sidearm,” Sokolowski said. “After that shotgun staggered Mr. Thomas, Mr. Intelisano went over and – for lack of a better word – tried to finish off Mr. Thomas with that shot in the back.”
While Sokolowski expressed sorrow for the actions of Intelisano, the involvement of Hill and the loss of the Thomas family, he urged the members of the jury not to “consider that emotional pull when you’re making this decision.
“You’re not to consider that, and the charge tells you so,” he pointed out. “You’re considering facts. You’re considering evidence. And the evidence does not show that Brandon Hill shot Mr. Thomas or acted as a party to shooting Mr. Thomas.”
In her closing arguments as the representative of the State of Texas, Houston County District Attorney Donna Gordon Kaspar encouraged the jury to consider the physical evidence – such as cell phone records – presented throughout the trial.
“He (Hill) says that when he left Tractor Supply, Mr. Intelisano started toward town and took him to Carly Pennell’s home, right close to the sheriff’s department,” Kaspar pointed out. “And we know from the records that that is not true, because just a few minutes after the shooting, he is pinging off a tower out there in the county, real close to where that shooting occurred. So, yeah, I’m going to call Brandon Hill a liar.”
As Kaspar further pointed out, Hill initially denied being in the area at the time of the shooting, claiming to have remained at Pennell’s residence until he walked to the sheriff’s office for an interview.
“We know it’s not true, because now, he’s admitted it,” Kaspar said. “He admitted it, because we have the video showing Mr. Intelisano checking out at about 3:12-3:13 in the afternoon. We know that that truck and trailer turned to go down 287 just, like, four minutes later. That does not give Mr. Intelisano time to take Brandon Hill home.”
Other evidence reviewed by Kaspar during her closing statement included the single bullet hole in the windshield of Thomas’s truck, as well as the lack of bullet defects inside the vehicle.
“We have a rough approximation of the angle,” she said. “All we really know is that it went from the passenger side toward the driver’s side. We don’t know if it went up or down; we don’t know if it deflected a little bit when it hit the glass. But we do know it appears to have gone a little bit toward the driver from the passenger side.”
Based on the fact that Thomas sustained a facial wound as a result of a shot from a small-caliber gun, Kaspar continued, “you can deduce that that bullet was, in fact, headed toward the driver, through the windshield and into Mr. Thomas’s face. It explains how he got hit in the face and there’s no bullet defects inside the cab of the truck.”
As Kaspar pointed out at the conclusion of her argument, “Frank Thomas knew what happened to him.
“Thank the Lord he lived long enough to tell us, or Brandon and Mr. Intelisano would have gotten away scot-free,” she said.
During her closing arguments Thursday, Kaspar urged the jury to bear in mind Hill’s past criminal infractions, which were discussed during the trial.
“You also have to consider one other thing when you assess punishment,” she said. “You have to deter both Mr. Hill and others from this type of behavior.”
In his own closing argument, Sokolowski reminded the members of the jury that Hill has never been convicted of a felony.
“Over 13 years ago, he was charged with and ultimately convicted of criminal mischief — $500-$1,500 – which is a Class B misdemeanor, a criminal mischief, which is a Class B misdemeanor and evading arrest, which is a Class B misdemeanor,” Sokolowski said. “All cases carry 180 days in jail as a maximum, and he was placed on probation for those. He successfully completed the probation.”
As Sokolowski pointed out, the jury was left with the choice of sentencing Hill to TDCJ or placing him on probation.
“Certainly, Mr. Hill is going to want probation,” he said. “And when he gets probation, he’s going to be under the watchful eye of the court. They’re going to be able to make him do certain things that will keep him and help him to become a productive citizen; to not have an issue; to keep moving forward in life.”
Sending Hill to TDCJ, Sokolowski said, would result in providing no help to Hill before his return to society.
“Nothing at TDC teaches you to make right choices,” he said. “It locks you away in a room, and you’re there.”
Because he was sentenced to 20 years, Hill will be required to serve 10 years in TDCJ before being eligible for parole.
In a press release issued following the trial, Kaspar expressed her hope that Thomas’s family was brought closure as a result of the verdict.
“I felt such deep sympathy for them,” Kaspar wrote. “Shelia Thomas spoke of the hardships that were caused by the event in her impact statement. This verdict, unfortunately, can’t undo what has been done.”
Kaspar went on to “commend the jury for making the hard decision in these cases and assessing the maximum punishment for the offense for which he was convicted.”