By Nick Cheshire
After nearly five days of testimony, closing arguments took place Wednesday in the trial of Steven E. Thodos, who faces 11 criminal charges resulting from a January 2021 shootout in the Sterling Walmart that left one deputy severely injured.
The incident began just before 5 p.m. Jan. 2, 2021, when loss prevention officers at the Sterling Walmart detained Thodos on suspicion of stealing items, claiming he was “skip scanning” merchandise at the checkout—that is putting some items with his purchases without processing them in the payment system.
Thodos was being held in a room with the civilian security officers and two other suspected shoplifters when Deputy First Class Camron Gentry arrived. The suspect resisted the deputy’s efforts to pat him down and search him. When Deputy First Class Charles Ewing arrived, they tried together but were thrown to the ground. They said Thodos then pulled out a handgun and fired at them. The loss prevention officers also sustained injuries. As the suspect ran from the security office and out of the store, Ewing fired shots at Thodos, striking him in the arm.
Thodos then stole a pickup from a nearby business and led law enforcement on a chase down Rt. 28 into Fairfax County, where he crashed and later was arrested.
The evidence in the case revolved around testimony from multiple victims, notably from the deputies, plus a combination of physical and video evidence to substantiate the charges. Store security officers Mohamed Amin and Jade Puslaski testified along with the owner of the stolen truck.
During closing arguments, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Shaniqua Clark Nelson returned to the video to highlight footage from the security cameras obtained from the Walmart and from Ewing’s body-worn camera.
The body camera footage began as Ewing arrived at the scene in his police cruiser, continued throughout the entirety of the incident and ended with him applying the tourniquet to Gentry after he was badly wounded. A total of 10 shots were fired by both parties, seven by Thodos and three in response by Ewing.
The tape cuts out after several minutes of Ewing consoling Gentry, who is noticeably distraught after losing a considerable amount of blood from his legs. Ewing assures him while they wait for the rescue team to arrive, “You’re not going to die brother.”
“Deputy Gentry stands here today because of the actions of Deputy Ewing,” Clark Nelson said.
In his summation of the case, defense attorney Adam Pouilliard told the jury that prosecutors were “trying to overwhelm you with emotion and blind you to the overall facts that have been presented.”
Clark Nelson countered by saying that the commonwealth is only “shining light on the conduct that created the injuries.”
The defense built its closing argument around two main points, which according to Pouilliard were “the failure of the investigation,” and “the lack of ballistic evidence.” He said there was a lack of evidence present in the trial in comparison to the scene of the crime, specifically questioning the origin and location of the bullets that struck Gentry.
Both parties routinely debated the specific locations of the victims, the angles at which the firearms were discharged, and the nature of the bullets after they were shot. The defense argued that there was no conclusive evidence to rule out that the bullets that hit Pulaksi, Amin, and Gentry were not those fired by Deputy Ewing. Pouilliard said the jury should see in the video that Thodos “is not aiming at them, he is attempting to scare them and get away.”
Clark Nelson encouraged the jurors to slow down the video during their deliberations to see the specific reaction of certain items in the room to the gunshots fired by Ewing to prove that his bullets did not strike Gentry.
Pouilliard also refuted the grand larceny charge stemming from the stolen pickup, arguing the vehicle was not valued at more than $1,000, making it petty larceny, and stating Thodos had no intention of permanently stealing the vehicle. Prosecutors cited the owner’s testimony that the truck was worth between $2,300 to $2,500, while also arguing that Thodos had no intentions of returning the vehicle after crashing it into a tree.
To win a conviction of the most serious charges, attempted capital murder, prosecutors must prove Thodos willfully, deliberately and with premeditation sought to kill the deputies. The class 2 felony carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. The charge of aggravated malicious wounding, in which the shooting was intended to maim, disfigure, disable or kill the victim and results in severe injury or causes permanent and significant physical impairment, also is a class 2 felony. Malicious wounding is a class 6 felony punishable by one to five years in prison. Grand larceny is punishable by up to 12 months in jail. Use of firearm in the commission of the felony carries a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.
[Nick Cheshire is a rising junior at Virginia Tech studying multimedia journalism and a summer intern at Loudoun Now.]