Documents: Deputies interviewed murder suspect before killing

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— Three days after two women were attacked in North Fort Myers, Lee County deputies made contact with a man matching the suspect's description.

That man was Antonio D. Thomas. Deputies let him go after a brief interview in June because he denied involvement and the Sheriff's Office had nine other suspects at the time, according to reports released this week by the State Attorney's Office that shed additional light on the case.

The crimes continued — two more women were attacked and one was killed — before Thomas, 29, turned himself in to a Fort Myers police officer on June 22, confessing to the attacks and ending a 10-day crime spree.

Thomas is accused of attempting to carjack at least two women, beating one woman, stabbing another and raping and killing 61-year-old Phyllis Stein behind a North Fort Myers auto store. Sheriff Mike Scott called Thomas a "vicious killer" and a "caged animal" after the arrest.

The recently released documents show that a Lee County paramedic alerted law enforcement to Thomas after responding to a potential cocaine overdose, transporting Thomas to Lee Memorial Hospital and getting a "general uneasy feeling" about him. She and her EMS partner noticed Thomas fit the description of the suspect from the earlier attacks. Deputies questioned Thomas the next day, June 16.

The documents also detail a mix-up involving a photo lineup, during which a detective showed a victim a photo of Antwoine D. Thomas, not Antonio D. Thomas. Because of the mix-up, the victim was unable to identify the suspect.

Sheriff's Office officials deny the mix-up hindered their investigation or delayed Thomas' arrest. Lt. Larry King, an agency spokesman, said the photo mix-up occurred only after Thomas was booked and investigators started to re-interview victims.

"Right now we are trying to get people to understand this error didn't allow a violent fugitive out on the streets," King said. "This wasn't someone who could have been in custody any sooner than he was based on the investigation along the way."

About 15 minutes after the victim was shown the photo lineup, investigators realized the mix-up. Jail records indicate staff included the wrong photo in Antonio Thomas' file.

"The error was found a few minutes after the photo was taken and the error was corrected internally, but the photo was never removed from Antonio Thomas' record in the database," according to a timeline the Sheriff's Office released Friday.

Thomas confessed to five attacks. He is facing 25 felony charges, including homicide, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault and grand theft.

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