Teen's 40-year term upheld in Kanawha
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County judge upheld a 40-year sentence for a West Side teen convicted in 2010 of stabbing his elderly neighbor to death with a pocketknife.
Circuit Judge Carrie Webster reaffirmed Thomas Mallo's 40-year sentence Friday morning.
Mallo was 14 when he entered the home of Phyllis Jean Phares, 82, and stabbed her dozens of times, at one point nearly severing her head. He turned 18 this month and, under state law, he was eligible for a reconsideration of the 40-year term.
Despite indications that Mallo made some small behavioral progress during his two years at the West Virginia Industrial Home for Youth, though, prosecutors reiterated some of the dark details of Phares' murder and pointed to a recent incident in which Mallo is accused of attacking one of the facility's guards as evidence that he remains a violent criminal.
That incident is being handled as a juvenile proceeding in Harrison County and is not public record. Prosecutors, however, say that a hearing will be held to determine whether to transfer the case to adult status.
In June 2009, Mallo was yelling in front of his house on Frame Street when Phares went outside and told him to quiet down. Enraged, Mallo later walked into the house, tricked the woman into looking out a window and stabbed her in the back with a pocketknife, according to Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Maryclaire Akers.
"When she turned around and said, 'You're killing me Thomas,' he continued to stab her in the throat, in the chest and the neck until he nearly severed her head from her body," Akers said during Friday's hearing.
Dr. Thomas Horacek, a contract psychologist who works with the prison system, testified Friday that Mallo told him that killing Phares was a necessary step to ensure that his family stayed together.
Phares, according to Horacek, set foot in Mallo's home, which made his father upset. She also tried to have Mallo's niece and nephew taken away, along with dogs that were in the home, Horacek testified.
Police reports described Mallo's Frame Street home as covered in feces, filthy and generally unsuited for human habitation. Several of Mallo's family members were convicted on charges ranging from child neglect to sexual assault some time after Phares' murder.
Testimony on Horacek's reports also indicated moments when Mallo appeared to show genuine remorse for the crime. On one evaluation, Mallo said that he "prayed for God to tell [Phares], 'I'm sorry for what I did,'" Horacek said.
He followed that by saying, "I'm really upset with the way it messed up my life," Horacek said.
The psychologist also testified that Mallo's statements indicate more that he felt sorry for the crime for his own sake and did not tend to exhibit genuine sympathy toward Phares or her family. Mallo's low cognitive function and his inability to form attachments outside his family or peer groups at the youth facility all point to signs that his behavior will not improve, Horacek said.
Progress reports attached to Mallo's Kanawha County court file note that he has maintained low but passing grades during his time at the youth facility and has shown some promise in group-therapy sessions.
Kanawha County Chief Public Defender George Castelle said the squalid conditions and physical and emotional abuse Mallo suffered as a child directly affected his psyche and ultimately became a factor that caused him to attack Phares. Castelle asked the judge to consider imposing a sentence lower than the maximum 40-year, second-degree murder sentence and allow Mallo to stay in the juvenile prison until he is 21.
Phares daughter, Karen Morris, placed a picture of her mother next to the podium as she addressed the judge shortly before Mallo's sentence was handed down Friday.
"Thomas Mallo does not deserve to walk the streets again," she said. "He will be a violent menace to society."
Mallo stood to give a brief statement, looking over his shoulder at Phares' family members as he spoke.
"I just want Ms. Phares' family to know that I'm really sorry for what I've done," he said.
Reach Zac Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.