A judgment of more than $1.14 billion has been entered in a Dallas court for the family of an 83-year-old grandmother who was murdered in her home by a Charter Spectrum cable field technician.
In July, a jury in the court of Dallas County Court at Law Judge Juan Renteria – after less than two hours of deliberation – awarded the family of Betty Thomas a staggering $7 billion in exemplary damages against Charter Communications, whose telecommunication and media services are branded as Spectrum. The previous month, at the end of a three-week trial, the same jury of four women and two men awarded $375 million in actual damages.
Thomas, an Irving resident, was stabbed to death and robbed on Dec. 12, 2019, by Roy Holden, the Charter Spectrum field tech who’d made a service call at her home the day before. Holden told Irving homicide detectives he killed Thomas because “I was broke, I was hungry. … I didn’t have no money.” Now 45, he’s serving a life sentence in a Texas state prison in Beeville, north of Corpus Christi.
The plaintiffs in the suit against Charter were the estate of Thomas, represented by her grandson William Goff; Christopher Thomas, another grandson, who is guardian for Thomas’s son Charles Thomas; and three of the elderly woman’s daughters, Cindy Ringness, Cheryl Goff and Charlotte Goff.
The $1.147 billion judgment entered Monday by Judge Renteria includes $150 million in exemplary damages for each of the five plaintiffs. The remainder of the lump sum includes actual damages, plus pre-judgment interest.
Few if any courtroom observers deemed it likely that the $7.3 billion jury verdict would stand up on appeal.
Ray T. Khirallah Jr., a partner with Hamilton Wingo of Dallas and one of the lawyers at trial for the Thomas family, told The Texas Lawbook the final judgment of $1.14 billion was in keeping with what the Thomas family felt it was owed, met court guidelines on the extent of punitive damages in comparable cases and was on the accepted ratio of exemplary damages to actual damages.
“The jury’s verdict was absolutely in line with the facts established at trial,” Khirallah said. “At first, $7 billion seems like a huge number, but no one who sat through the weeks and weeks of evidence should have been surprised by the jury’s decision.”
Charter’s attorney at trial, Michael H. Bassett of the Bassett Firm in Dallas, did not respond to a request for comment. An appeal of the final judgment – to which Charter did not agree – is all but certain.
In his closing argument during the exemplary damages phase of the trial, Bassett told the jury its $375 million verdict on actual damages alone was sufficient punishment for Charter.
“They heard you very loud. They heard you clearly,” he said, adding, “We hear you loud and clear that you are not happy with Charter.”
He added, “The murder of Betty Thomas was not foreseeable to Charter.”
Khirallah and his Hamilton Wingo partner Chris Hamilton argued that Charter was negligent in, among other things, not checking Holden’s employment history, in not adequately training supervisors to recognize psychological instability in field employees such as Holden and in letting him keep making service calls after he acknowledged less than two weeks before the murder that marital and financial troubles were deeply upsetting him.
“When you’re in an industry that sends workers, employees, unsupervised into customers’ homes, you have a duty as a business to ensure that those employees have been adequately screened, trained, and supervised,” Khirallah said. “We’re all vulnerable in our homes.”
On Wednesday, Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge announced his retirement after 10 years as head of the company. Rutledge is credited with guiding Charter through the $60 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016, a deal that made Charter a powerhouse among U.S. broadband and pay-television companies.
There was no indication that his decision to step down was related to the Dallas judgment against Charter.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Rutledge’s total compensation last year was $41.8 million.