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Murder suspect gets judge's OK for five-state road trip

COUPEVILLE — A Superior Court judge has given Peggy Sue Thomas permission to take a five-state, two-week road trip before the former Langley resident faces arraignment later this month for first-degree murder.

Thomas, a former hairdresser and beauty queen who authorities say helped lure Russel Douglas to his murder the day after Christmas in 2003, was released on bail Sept. 2. Under the conditions of her release, Thomas was required to wear a GPS bracelet and stay in Washington.

At a hearing Monday in Island County Superior Court, her attorney Craig Platt asked Judge Michael Moynihan to allow Thomas to leave Washington for roughly two weeks so she could attend a memorial service for her half sister in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, and then take care of personal business in her former home states of Nevada and New Mexico.

Platt said Thomas had been an “extremely good person” while out on bail.

“Ms. Thomas has performed extremely well during her release. There have been no issues whatsoever, no violations, no problems of any sort,” Platt said.

Thomas, who once worked with the wife of the murder victim at a Langley hair salon before leaving Whidbey Island, worked as a limousine driver in Las Vegas, Nev. until 2006 and moved to Roswell, N.M. after marrying millionaire thoroughbred horse trainer Mark Allen.

Platt said Thomas needed to travel to her homes in Roswell and Clark County, Nev. to retrieve items, including photographs, that she could use in her defense in her first-degree murder trial.

“It’s not possible to delegate this work, because her possessions were not organized prior to [her] leaving,” Platt said, adding that they were in different boxes in different locations and only Thomas would be able to find what she needed.

In court documents, Platt also said Thomas needed money for living expenses, attorney’s fees and other bills and has to sell her home in Roswell. Thomas must visit her home to arrange for repairs, remove personal items and get it ready for sale, he said.

Platt said Thomas also needed to go to her property in Nevada because she had been told by her homeowners’ association that the condition of her property was violating the covenants of the neighborhood, and that she may be fined if the residence isn’t fixed up.

There were other reasons for the two-week trip, her attorney said.

Thomas must clean out her New Mexico home and bring her possessions to Nevada, and she wants to bring back winter clothing to Whidbey that she can wear for the cold weather, and for her court appearances. Thomas also has to winterize her houseboat — presumably, the houseboat called “Off the Hook” where she was found by police and arrested in July — so it doesn’t get damaged in the coming months. She also needs to see her dentist in Las Vegas, Platt said.

And finally, she needs to retrieve her vehicle from out of state so she can have something to use while running errands, seeking employment and attending court.

Platt stressed that Thomas would not try to run from the law if given the chance to leave Washington.

The GPS bracelet that she has been ordered to wear, he said, would track her movements whenever she wasn’t on an airline flight or outside the range of the tracking device.

An alarm will be triggered if she tries to remove the bracelet, Platt added.

“Every step of the way, at every location where she goes, she would check in with law enforcement. She would be happy to report to a local law enforcement agency at each of these locations; Roswell, Las Vegas, Bonner’s Ferry and so on,” he said.

In court documents, Platt laid out a draft itinerary of Thomas’ two-week trip.

She would drive from Langley to Bonner’s Ferry for her half sister’s memorial service Oct. 15. She would then fly to Albuquerque, N.M. to stay with her daughter. After that, she would rent a U-Haul trailer and drive to Roswell, and stay with her daughter there for two days.

Thomas would then drive to Clark County, Nev. — a 12-hour trip, Platt estimated — stopping in Salt Lake City, Utah to visit family. In Las Vegas, she would stay four to five days at her home to arrange for maintenance, store the belongings she retrieved in New Mexico and get the place ready for a tenant.

She would then return to Bonner’s Ferry to drop off her stepmother, and finally return to Washington. Platt said Thomas’ stepmother was a retired law enforcement official, and would accompany her stepdaughter for much of the trip.

Platt said he would give the county prosecutor’s office a complete itinerary once it was finalized.

“She is not a flight risk,” Platt said, adding that Thomas had been “exemplary” while out on bail.

“There have been absolutely no violations, no problems, no issues whatsoever.

“The fact is, if somebody’s going to take off, they just take off. She’s not doing that,” Platt said. “She’s letting everybody know what her plans are. She’s preparing a detailed itinerary. She knows she’s on GPS.”

Thomas has also put up property for the bond to be released on bail, he reminded the court, and added that she had “every incentive” to appear in court and defend herself zealously.

“She has nowhere else to go,” Platt said. “She’s not going to take off.”

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks opposed the request to let Thomas leave Washington for two weeks, and noted that Judge Alan Hancock had reduced her bail from $1 million to $500,000 in August, but did not release her on her own accord.

“He did find that she was a flight risk and had some risk of reoffending. So if he hadn’t found that, she would have been released on her own recognizance. Which of course, she wasn’t,” Banks said.

Thomas shouldn’t be allowed to leave the state to go home just to “mow her lawn,” he said, or go shopping for winter clothes.

New Mexico was right next to Mexico, Banks added, and Bonner’s Ferry, “a stone’s throw from the Canadian border.”

Banks also reminded the judge that the GPS bracelet wouldn’t work when Thomas was aboard an airplane.

“So there’s nothing to stop her from going to the airport in Bonner’s Ferry or wherever it is she is planning on flying out of, and hopping a flight to some place other than Albuquerque. She’d be in the air, and we wouldn’t know until she didn’t land in Albuquerque. She could be any place in the U.S. or Canada.”

Banks also noted that Thomas’ GPS bracelet relied on cell phone technology to report her whereabouts, and wouldn’t work if she drove into a cell phone “dead zone.”

“It provides the perfect cover for someone who wants to cut off the device and escape the conditions of release,” Banks said. “If she’s out in the wilderness of New Mexico, that might provide an ideal opportunity to do so. We wouldn’t be in any position to do anything about it for some time.”

Banks said Thomas’ itinerary was packed with things that others could do for her.

“It sounds to me like just about everything she’s asking to do could be done by others, by family members or hired contractors,” he said. “It looks like she wants to travel to New Mexico and Nevada to visit her two daughters, mow the lawn at her Nevada residence or whatever else the neighborhood association says she hasn’t been doing, take care of some of her other real estate, and pack up some stuff and move it.”

“There’s no reason that those sorts of things can’t be accomplished by others at her direction,” he said.

“We do have dentists in Washington,” he added. “They do sell clothing in Washington, as well.”

Banks also quickly questioned why she wanted to attend the memorial for her half sister, Brenda Stackhouse-Gard, who died late last month.

“Her half sister who passed away was very cooperative with the prosecution in this matter,” Banks said. “And, in fact, had reached out to us even when we weren’t looking for help. So I’m not sure how dire the need is for Ms. Thomas to pay her respects.”

Judge Moynihan, a retired judge from Bellingham who was filling in for the vacationing Judge Hancock, speedily agreed to the travel request.

“I grant it. When will she return?” Moynihan asked.

Platt said Oct. 29. And with Thomas’ arraignment set for Oct. 24, the judge agreed to postpone that hearing to Oct. 31.

Douglas was shot in the head on Dec. 26, 2003. Authorities allege that Thomas lured Douglas to a remote property south of Freeland with the promise of a Christmas gift for Douglas’ wife, and then James “Jim” Huden murdered Douglas after he showed up to pick up the present.

A friend of Huden later turned over the handgun that detectives say was used in the crime, which Huden had given to a friend for safekeeping after he and Thomas returned to Nevada from their 2003 Christmastime visit to Whidbey.

Detectives later found a fingerprint from Thomas on the manual for the pistol, and Huden’s wife allegedly told authorities that Thomas had admitted taking part in the murder.

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