Summit County prosecutor fights parole of ‘violent offender’ convicted of kidnapping, rape, murder

Huge fight to keep murderer behind bars

SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Thomas Gilbert has spent 40 years in prison.

Summit County prosecutors believe he should stay there.

Gilbert was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder and sentenced to 55 years to life in prison.

Police say he killed two women in Summit County.

The Ohio Parole Board has scheduled a hearing in February to consider whether Gilbert should be paroled.

“This is one of the most violent offenders that has ever come through this court system,” said Tania Nemer, a community outreach prosecutor for the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office.

Nemer said if this trial had happened today their office would have pushed for the death penalty.

In 1981, that punishment was not an option so the office is now lobbying to keep him behind bars.

They are not alone.

A victim’s family has created a petition online.

It has more than 5,000 people who agreed that Gilbert should be behind bars.

“In this case, there is no redeeming quality here,” said Nemer. “There is nothing that can show this individual does not deserve to spend life in prison.”

Joan Schafer was one of Gilbert’s victims. Her best friends Tammie Sullivan and Beth Helms remember her death vividly.

“Should he ever get out again, I’m pretty sure he would kill again; I think he liked it,” said Beth Helms.

They were 14 years old when police rang Sullivan’s door.

They were “asking a lot of questions about what I and her had been doing, where we’d gone, [and] did we see anybody,” said Sullivan.

Joan Schafer was walking down Samira Street in Stow when she was taken by Gilbert, stabbed, and raped.

Police found Schafer’s body behind a middle school in Tallmadge.

“They had a piece of fabric similar to her skin color up over her neck to hide the fact that he had cut her throat,” said Helms.

“If he gets out, he’ll kill again. He’s a serial murder, and he likes it,” said Sullivan.

Just one day before Schaffer’s death, Gilbert killed 19-year-old Sandy Jo.

Gilbert drunkenly entered an old convenience store and took Jo.

She was found behind a bowling alley, stabbed 26 times, raped, and left for dead.

40 years later, these friends are still shaken by the events, and their asking for as many people to write the parole board to keep Gilbert behind bars.

“You would not want your child to live through that, to live with the fact that a monster came out of nowhere and took their best friend,” said Sullivan. “You can’t reconcile that. You can’t make that better for them, ever. They have to learn how to deal with that on their own.”

Gilbert was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of rape, and one count each of escape, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery.

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