The mother of Christian J. Thomas said in court Wednesday that she knew something was wrong when he didn’t come home one night in late December 2007. He always slept in his own bed, she said.
Claudia Story did not see or hear from her son again. The family reported him missing and in April 2008, after the snow melted, Thomas’s body was found on a pile of trash between two close houses not far from where he lived. He had been shot twice.
Nearly 10 years later, one of Christian Thomas’s good friends, Erik “Bucky” Donaldson, now 32, was sentenced by an Erie County judge to 25 years to life in prison for killing Thomas, hiding his body and leaving his family to wonder for years why he was killed.
In August a jury found Donaldson guilty of second-degree murder in Thomas’s death.
Before Wednesday’s sentencing, Story told the court a little of what her family had been through.
“It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard,” she said. “You see it on TV, how these young kids are taking kids’ lives, but you don’t know how it feels till you feel it yourself.”
According to investigators, Donaldson fled the area after Thomas was killed. Buffalo Police detectives eventually found him living in Florida.
Donaldson denied knowing anything about Thomas’s murder, but in his Florida driver’s license photo, Donaldson is wearing an earring that had belonged to Thomas.
After police talked to him, Donaldson took off again, winding up in Alabama. He was finally arrested there, but then had to serve a federal prison term for weapons conviction before he was returned to Buffalo in June 2016.
Donaldson’s ever-changing version of what happened the night Christian Thomas was killed resulted in several months of delays before the case finally went to trial. Even then, Donaldson took the stand to tell how he and Thomas had been gambling, that they got into an argument about money, and that an uncle who Donaldson called for help found a shotgun and shot Thomas — first in the back and then in the face.
Donaldson also testified that his uncle threatened to kill him if he ever told what happened, so he didn’t.
Judge Thomas P. Franczyk let Donaldson know on Wednesday that he wasn’t buying it.
“It’s clear that you put Christian Thomas and his family through a slow-burning hell,” the judge said. “To leave them wondering where he was for months and (wondering) who did it for years. You went back to his house like a vulture – to his house where his family lay asleep – and stole his jewelry.”
And, the judge said, when confronted with evidence that proved he had stolen the victim’s valuables, “You blame it on this crazy uncle of yours. That’s one of the biggest baloney sandwiches I’ve ever seen anyone try to shove down a jury’s throat.”
Franczyk then handed down the maximum possible sentence, and Thomas's family quietly left the courtroom.