BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — A former Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) officer was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a jury on Thursday.
Freddie Thomas, a former Ellsworth Correctional Facility employee, was initially granted immunity based on self-defense in the Sept. 2015 shooting of 39-year-old Jeremy Saldana, but a court reversed the ruling in 2020, and Thomas stood trial.
He was found guilty of one count of voluntary manslaughter.
A news release from the Barton County Attorney says that on Sept. 11, 2015, around 8:40 p.m., Thomas shot and killed Saldana with a Ruger S9. Thomas was arrested on the scene and charged with first-degree murder just five days later.
Thomas was bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing, but a now-retired judge granted Thomas immunity from prosecution based on self-defense. The State of Kansas then filed an appeal. In Dec. 2017, the Kansas Court of Appeals issued an unpublished opinion, reversing the grant of immunity.
The defendant then filed a petition for review with the Kansas Supreme Court, which agreed with the Court of Appeals and sent the case back for a rehearing.
Because the judge who had ruled previously had retired, it was sent to a different judge, who denied Thomas’s immunity request and set the matter for a jury trial.
Court documents show that Saldana, who was Freddie’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, was unarmed when Thomas shot him.
The documents show Thomas and his girlfriend were visiting a house in Great Bend on Sept. 11, 2015. Saldana had been living at the home but left that morning to avoid causing “drama” between Thomas and his girlfriend.
Thomas and Saldana had never met before, and Thomas did not know that Saldana lived there.
That evening, Saldana texted other residents of the home that he wanted to come back and that they should ask Thomas and his girlfriend to leave. Thomas was upset, and his girlfriend wanted to go home.
The court documents then say she and Thomas walked to his car, but Thomas returned to the front yard, carrying a firearm and wearing a protective vest.
Thomas then approached Saldana in the front yard of the home, preventing him from entering the home. Thomas initially told detectives the day of the shooting that he told Saldana he was armed, but during a later interview denied making that statement.
Documents show witnesses did not see Saldana was armed, nor did they see Saldana punch Thomas. Thomas grabbed Saldana by the throat, and a struggle ensued. Thomas stepped back and drew his weapon.
Thomas denied any physical contact between him and Saldana but did speak of a “clearing maneuver” as a way to separate himself from Saldana. Witnesses confirmed the clearing maneuver.
Thomas told detectives that he did not see Saldana with a weapon. Detectives testified they did not see anything that could have been a weapon at the scene. The documents show Thomas “did not believe he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm from Saldana.”
Thomas shot Saldana three times.: once and then twice in rapid succession. Documents say one shot was to the head, and two were to the chest. Thomas’s girlfriend did not believe Saldana was attacking Thomas when he shot Saldana.
The news release from the attorney’s office says following the guilty verdict, Thomas was remanded to the Barton County Jail with a bond of $50,000, along with bond conditions including electronic monitoring and turning over his passports.
With this conviction, Thomas is required to register in Kansas as a violent offender. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.