DNA sample taken in Thomas letter case

Published 9:11 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sheriff Shane Phelps confirmed this week that investigators obtained a DNA sample from a person of interest in the

investigation into the origins of a letter that threatened the life of Panola County Supervisor John Thomas and his family last month.

The Sheriff’s Office is awaiting the results of that sample from a private laboratory that specializes in faster turnarounds for law enforcement forensic evidence and swabs. Investigators hope to have the results this week or early next week.

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“That will tell us what we need to know,” Phelps said Monday. “After the test results are received we will have further information for the public. This remains a very serious matter until we get answers.”

The threatening letter was received at the Batesville Courthouse on Aug. 16. It had been postmarked in Memphis on Aug. 12.

The unsigned letter said if Thomas did not begin road work at Enid Shores by Sept. 1 the writer would first kill the supervisor’s family and then him. Thomas’ district includes Enid Shores and he is often asked to support county-maintenance for the roads there, although the supervisors have repeatedly been told they are not allowed to maintain roadways that do not belong to the county.

Enid Shores, located in south Panola County, is a private subdivision with roads that belong to the residents and maintained by an association of property owners in the area. Some residents there contend the county does own the roads and should provide regular maintenance (grading of gravel roads). Supervisors have long resisted the argument and do not want to add any more miles of road to the current maintenance program.

Shortly after the letter was received and investigators began asking questions in the Enid Shores neighborhood, a person of interest, reported to be a part-time resident there, was developed. Phelps declined to name the person, or say what facts were learned that led to the person standing out to officers.

Phelps said the person was questioned, and asked for a DNA sample (usually a swab of the inside of the mouth), but refused. The person of interest then spent about a week in a Memphis hospital following a vehicle accident, delaying the investigation.

When released, Phelps asked a Circuit Court judge for a warrant to obtain a DNA sample. The sheriff said the person complied with the warrant and provided the sample, which will be compared to forensic evidence gathered from the letter and its envelope.