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Prosecutors to seek maximum in Mallo re-sentencing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County prosecutors say they will ask a judge to reinforce a 40-year prison term for Thomas Mallo, a West Side teen who was convicted of stabbing his elderly neighbor to death in 2009.

Mallo turns 18 in a few weeks and will be eligible for a reconsideration of his 40-year sentence on second-degree murder charges in the killing of 82-year-old Phyllis Jean Phares. He was 14 when police charged him with entering the woman's Frame Street home and stabbing her 35 times with a pocketknife.

"You know, our views won't change as far as what he should be sentenced to," county assistant prosecutor Maryclaire Akers said. "We will be asking the court to sentence him the same as before."

As required by state law, Kanawha County Judge Carrie Webster will reconsider Mallo's sentence because he will be an adult.

Akers pointed to recent charges Mallo faces in Harrison County for reportedly attacking a corrections officer and attempting to escape the West Virginia Industrial Home for the Youth, where he has been staying since his sentencing in 2010, as an indicator that he still has violent tendencies.

Progress reports attached to his Kanawha County court file indicate, however, that his behavior has steadily improved since his incarceration. He has maintained low but passing grades in his classes and has shown promise in group therapy sessions, the reports say.

After his sentencing in 2010, Mallo's lawyer, Kanawha County chief public defender George Castelle, said that his client's behavior dramatically shifted when he was taken to prison, far away from the squalor and abuse he suffered at home, according to court filings.

Feces and filth gave rise to an overwhelming stench that blanketed Mallo's home. Mattresses were uncovered, infested with cockroaches and "soiled to the point of decay." Mallo himself slept on the porch because there were no beds for him inside the house, Castelle said in the filing, quoting a Charleston Police investigative report.

Police arrested five adult relatives who lived in the house with Mallo. They later pleaded guilty to a range of charges that included sexual abuse, child abuse and neglect.

Castelle also noted that at the time of the murder, Mallo's brain functioned at the capacity of a child half his age.

Castelle said this week that he will file a motion in early December, asking Webster for some type of reduction to Mallo's sentence. In 2010, Castelle filed a similar motion that asked the judge to consider keeping Mallo in the juvenile system past his 18th birthday. The judge has the power to sentence Mallo as a juvenile, despite his technical transfer to adult status, Castelle said.

If Webster chooses to sentence Mallo as an adult, then she has the option to sentence him to any number of years between the 10- to 40-year range statutorily required for second-degree murder.

"It is deeply inappropriate to confine an abused juvenile for years, or even decades, in an adult penitentiary for behavior that was, in essence, the result of a treatable medical condition brought on by years of abuse," Castelle said.

In June 2009, Mallo was yelling in front of his house, angry that some kids had made fun of him, when Phares told him to quiet down, according to previous Gazette reports.

Enraged, Mallo later entered Phares' home and stabbed her as many as 35 times with a black-handled pocketknife. Police said that he nearly decapitated the woman with the knife. Detectives said at the time that the murder was the most disturbing crime they had ever investigated.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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