Palm Sunday Massacre

On Palm Sunday, 1984, police responded to a report of shots fired at 1080 Liberty Avenue. They found 2 women and 8 children dead of point-blank gunshot wounds to the head. Two elements made the scene especially macabre: one, the victims were seated or reclined in a gruesome still-life, a few lounged in front of a television, another in the bedroom had been napping, and one woman held a tin of pudding and a spoon; two, a 13-month-old baby girl crawled among the corpses’ feet, crying. She was the only survivor.

After 9 days, the police investigation turned to Christopher Thomas. A cocaine addict with 3 priors for assault, Thomas often bought drugs from the home’s owner, Enrique Bermudez. Thomas had also accused Bermudez of sleeping with his wife.

Thomas’s defense attorney, Martin Schmukler, argued that what came to be known as The Palm Sunday Massacre was a case of manslaughter and not of murder, as Thomas’s history of depression and addiction to cocaine constituted sufficient emotional duress to account for his actions.

The jury agreed. Christopher Thomas was convicted of 10 counts of first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 to 50 years. He has been eligible for parole since 2009, but as of this writing, he remains incarcerated.

The surviving toddler, Christina Rivera – having lost her mother, 2 half-brothers, and several cousins – was taken from the murder scene by Joanne Jeffe, one of the first responding police officers. Jeffe eventually adopted her.