The family of a 42-year-old military veteran shot to death by a guest in his home Jan. 3 described him Wednesday as an “amazing father” and devoted husband, son, brother and friend.
Nicholas Lile, a Merrillville native, was a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and served “with pride and distinction” on seven combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, his family said in a statement.
Lile was in his basement with his wife, her friend and the friend’s recent boyfriend, off-duty U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officer Timothy R. Thomas, when Thomas shot him to death about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 3, according to Lake County sheriff’s police and court records.
Thomas, 40, of Highland, was charged Monday with voluntary manslaughter, a level 2 felony.
The charge alleges Thomas acted in “sudden heat.” Thomas told sheriff’s police he shot Lile twice in the chest after Lile attacked him and prevented him from leaving Lile’s home, court records show.
Lile’s family disputed Thomas’ version of events, saying Lile did not provoke Thomas and evidence in the home showed “no signs of a struggle.”
Thomas’ booking photo showed no signs of injury to Thomas neck or face, the family said.
“The details of this case have been misrepresented,” the family said. “Nicholas was brutally murdered in his basement by a previously unknown guest who entered his home with a weapon.
“There was no physical altercation. Nicholas’ wife was sitting only a few feet away from where he was shot and can attest that Nicholas at no time yelled, threatened, or used physical force to choke, hit or prevent the suspect from leaving the residence.”
A spokesman for the Lake County prosecutor’s office declined comment Wednesday, because the case is pending.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said his officers collected evidence and submitted it to the prosecutor’s office, which determined what charge was appropriate. The homicide remains under investigation, he said.
“I extend my deepest condolences to the family of the victim,” Martinez said.
When asked about any perceived leniency because of Thomas’ law enforcement background, Martinez said his investigators are professional and thorough.
“We collect all evidence in the same unbiased manner, regardless of the background of the victim or suspect,” he said.
“The family is disheartened with the way Nicholas and this tragic incident have been portrayed,” the statement said. “He was murdered in cold blood, without provocation.”
According to court records, the Liles had not met Thomas before Jan. 3. He arrived with his girlfriend, and the two couples were “drinking alcohol and having fun” before the shooting.
Lile’s wife told police her husband and Thomas began arguing about their military experience, but she thought it was “good-natured joking.”
She told police she and her friend were talking near a pool table when she heard two shots and saw her husband on the floor.
Detectives did not immediately take a statement from Lile’s wife’s friend, because of the level of her intoxication, court records say.
She told investigators more than 12 hours after the shooting “she observed pushing and shoving but cannot remember what they were saying to one another,” court records state.
Police noted in charging documents that they observed “slight redness on the left side of defendant’s nose, as well as what appeared to be a small scratch above the defendant’s left eyebrow.”
Thomas met responding officers outside the Liles’ home, where he told them Lile had started “talking all kids of crazy (expletive),” so Thomas said he was leaving. Thomas alleged Lile grabbed him by the throat, threw him down and started choking him.
Thomas claimed he got away from Lile and again said he was leaving, but Lile lunged at him and threatened to kill him, records show.
Lile’s brother, Patrick Lile, said Nicholas Lile was 6-foot-4 and weighed more than 200 pounds. If there had been a struggle, items in the basement would have been knocked around, but they weren’t, he said.
“I sat in that basement, and I can’t come to any conclusion other than it was a verbal argument — just two military guys busting each other’s chops that went to one of them pulling a gun,” Patrick Lile said.
Patrick Lile said he thinks, based on where his brother’s body was found, that Thomas was between the staircase going upstairs and Lile.
“The staircase was right there,” he said. “He could have left.”
If convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Thomas could face 10 to 30 years in prison.
If prosecutors instead had charged him with murder, the possible penalty if convicted would have been 45 to 65 years in prison.
Patrick Lile said the family would remember Nicholas Lile for his love of family, his support of his community and service to his country.
“Our family will continue to fight for justice for this heinous crime,” he said.
A fundraiser to benefit Nicholas Lile’s wife can be found by searching “Nic Lile Memorial Fund” at GoFundMe.com.
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