Rhonda Parker / @ 6:19 p.m. / Courts

‘They Set Him Up to Be Killed’: Sheriff’s Investigator Relays Testimony of Jailhouse Informant in Manila Murder Case


A jailhouse informant says murder suspect Tamara Nicole Thomson told her Tyson Claros was set up to be killed, not just beaten up, and the motive was revenge.

Today sheriff’s Investigator Todd Fulton testified he was contacted by a female inmate who was upset by what Thomson told her about Claros’ killing. Fulton, testifying during the preliminary hearing for Thomson and four other defendants, said he interviewed the woman on Dec. 21, about a week after Thomson was arrested

Inmate Teressa Merrill told the investigator she asked Thomson whether Claros was killed as part of a robbery, and Thomson told her no, that Claros had been molesting her niece. Then Merrill asked whether Claros had been set up for a beating, or to be killed.
“What did Ms. Merrill say?” Deputy District Attorney Brie Bennett asked.

“That they set him up to be killed,” Fulton said.

He said the woman did not ask for any favors or compensation for her information.
Thomson, 18, has admitted to being part of a plan to give the 20-year-old Claros an “ass-whipping.” Instead he was shot multiple times and left dying on state Highway 255.

An eyewitness has testified that she and Claros were giving Thomson a ride when she pulled a gun on them. Immediately another car pulled up behind, at least four people piled out, and Claros was shot and fatally wounded.

Clockwise from upper left: Valenzuela, Mitchell, Fode, Thomson, Godoy-Standley.

Thomson, Catherine “Catie” Fode, Hector Godoy-Standley and Brandon James Mitchell are all charged with murder and carjacking. All five were allegedly packing handguns, but only Mitchell is charged with actually shooting a gun.

Valenzuela and Thomson both gave statements to law enforcement saying Mitchell shot Claros because he believed he had molested his and Fode’s young daughter. He was investigated but never charged.

Today Fulton testified about a conversation he had Feb. 14 with a girl who said she spoke with Mitchell before he surrendered to authorities. This person, apparently a juvenile on probation, claimed Mitchell apologized for what he had done. He reportedly said he no longer believed his child was molested.

“He said he knew that Catie had lied to him and he had basically killed someone for no reason, and now he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison,” Fulton quoted the girl as saying.

In surprise testimony yesterday, eyewitness “Jane Doe” identified Valenzuela as not only the man who ran up to her car and ordered her out, but also the person who pulled the trigger on Claros. Yet when she gave her initial statement, she said the man who came to her car window was not the shooter. Also, at first she wrongly identified a man named Jose Gonzales as being involved.

Valenzuela has admitted he was riding around in a car with Tamara, Catie, Hector and Brandon. But, in a taped interview played in court today, he told Fulton he had no idea about any plan to hurt Claros.

He didn’t know why they dropped off his girlfriend Tamara at Highland Park in the middle of the night (she had arranged to be picked up there by Jane Doe and Claros). He then just wanted to go home, but the others said they had something to do first. They ended up in Manila, where Valenzuela was astonished to see Tamara in the backseat of a car that was pulled over on the side of the road.

At first he denied to Fulton that he ran up to Jane Doe’s car and demanded that she get out. Finally he acknowledged he had done that, but he said he did it “for her safety.”

He flatly denied being armed, though Doe testified he was pointing a gun in her face. Claros Valenzuela said he was carrying a cellphone. Eventually he admitted he handled a small .22-caliber gun at some point.

After the shooting, two defendants took off in Doe’s car and the rest in Godoy-Standley’s vehicle, a Dodge Dart. After his arrest, Valenzuela told investigators where to find two guns that were tossed out of the Dodge. Another handgun was found not far from Doe’s abandoned car near Arcata.

Testimony is expected to continue tomorrow before Judge Marilyn Miles.

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