Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Sentencing in Lanham couple’s murder brings community a sense of closure

Husband and wife were shot at their Bladensburg business in 1999

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More than eight years after the double murder of a husband and wife veterinarian team, a Bowie man was sentenced Jan. 22 to 50 years in prison, bringing closure to Bladensburg-area residents who knew the couple.

Thomas Jefferson Gordon, 27, pleaded guilty Jan. 22 to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. Gordon, who faced two life sentences without parole, was sentenced to life in prison but Judge Graydon McKee suspended all but 50 years.

Because of the plea agreement, Gordon will not be able to appeal that decision, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.

Gordon is responsible for the death of Lanham residents Nirwan and Shashi Thapar, who were found shot multiple times in the upper body Sept. 15, 1999, at their Bladensburg Animal Hospital. Nirwan Thapar died at the scene and his wife was pronounced dead later that night at Prince George’s County Hospital.

Korionoff said several animal tranquilizers were missing from the scene and the cash register had been emptied, though less than $50 was taken.

‘‘Robbery was definitely a possible motive,” Korionoff said.

Gordon’s sentencing was a relief to Bladensburg residents and other community members who knew the couple.

‘‘I’m obviously very pleased that justice was finally done,” said Rufus Lusk, who was a member of Rotary International with Nirwan Thapar. ‘‘It was a really tragic thing that happened.”

County Councilman David Harrington (D-Dist. 5) of Cheverly said he remembers the Thapars well because of their involvement in Bladensburg’s business community. He served as the mayor of Bladensburg at the time of their deaths.

‘‘I remember they used to give internships to students who were interested in being veterinarians or in animals. They were good people,” he said.

Harrington said the animal hospital was a fixture in the town. The building now houses Banks and Associates, an accounting firm, Bladensburg Code Enforcement Director Tim McNamara said.

Lusk remembered the Nirwan Thapar as being very kind and gentle.

‘‘He was a wonderful person,” he said. ‘‘It’s like cutting the heart out of the community when something like that happens.”

‘‘There’s a sense of closure in this,” Harrington said. ‘‘Finally we can move on in a way.”

Robert Perez, 26, and Gordon were both convicted of the homicides in 2001. Perez’s conviction has been upheld – through appeals – three times for the homicides, the most recent in March 2007.

Perez is currently in jail in Calvert County for intimidating a witness of the Thapar murders. He is awaiting trial in Calvert County, as well as an appeal of his guilty conviction, Korionoff said.

In 2003, the state Court of Specials Appeals ruled that a confession to Prince George’s County Police after 51 hours of interrogation was not admissible as evidence. Perez claimed he was beaten during the interrogation.