Murder at Boise hotel prompts life sentence

Judge Timothy Hansen tells Thomas Herman that society will be protected by his incarceration.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comNovember 6, 2013 

murder victim mug.JPG

Mamokete Folkes

When Thomas Lee Herman was released from the Utah State Prison in June 2010 after serving more than 13 years for burglary, theft, sexual battery and other crimes, he said he was ill-prepared for life outside an 8-by-10-foot concrete box.

In a letter to the Idaho Statesman, Herman said he was dropped off in Salt Lake City with nothing more than the clothes on his back.

“One day they say your time is up — you’re rehabilitated,” Herman wrote. “You have on a T-shirt, shorts, shoes and socks (but) no money, no job, no food, no address or home and you’re all alone and lost.”

In the three-page letter received Tuesday, Herman said he slept in a bus by a river and stayed in old barns, cemeteries and even Dumpsters. He said he developed serious mental health issues and was “paranoid all the time.”

Eventually he ended up in Boise, where his condition worsened. He spent several weeks undergoing mental health treatment at Intermountain Hospital in Boise and later was admitted to State Hospital South in Blackfoot, where he was diagnosed with severe chronic mental illness.

Three weeks after he was released from the Blackfoot mental hospital, Herman put on his boots at a Boise motel and stomped Mamokete Folkes, 46, to death.

“He finished his drink before calling 911, while she lay dying on the floor,” George Gunn, the deputy Ada County prosecutor who handled the case, told Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen during sentencing Tuesday.

Folkes had come to the United States 22 years before from Lesotho, a small African country bordered on all sides by South Africa. She gained her citizenship, married and got a job at Micron. Later, she developed mental health problems and was in and out of treatment before going to live on the streets.

Herman, who has a tattoo of the devil covering the entire back of his shaved head, offered her a place at the Cabana Motel. She stayed with Herman for three nights before he got mad and stomped her to death on March 5. With Folkes bleeding on the floor, Herman finished his drink and then called 911 to say he believed he killed someone.

“I have great remorse for my actions that occurred in the early morning hours in that ... motel,” Herman, 56, wrote in his three-page letter to the Statesman. “I call(ed) 911 (and) not anytime did I not admit my guilt.”

In the letter, he said he knew he would be sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole. Hansen agreed Tuesday afternoon to that sentence, part of a plea agreement worked out by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Hansen called Folkes’ murder a “horrible and vicious killing.” He said Herman showed an “utter disregard for human life.”

The judge said he wished Herman could have remained at State Hospital South and continued with his treatment.

Herman, who attacked another woman with a knife at another Boise motel three months before Folkes was killed, nodded as Hansen told him his major responsibility is to protect society.

“I believe the only way I can do that is by a fixed life sentence,” Hansen said. “You, sir, will be in custody for the rest of your life.”

Defense attorney Reed Smith told Hansen his client isn’t a monster.

“He’s someone who has been institutionalized and can’t live in society,” Smith said of his client, who has been in and out of jail since 1974.

Herman declined to speak with investigators compiling a pre-sentence report for Hansen, and he continued his silence in court Tuesday.

In his letter, Herman said he wasn’t looking for sympathy. He said he wanted people to know what long-term prisoners face when they’re released.

“Inmates of all kinds, upon release from prison need assistance — they need help!” he wrote. “The individual doesn’t recognize this until it’s upon him or her. We are ignorant of these things of survival.”

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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