Gregory Scott Collins Murder: Where is Thomas Messina Now?

Image Credit: Jeff Hacker/ Find A Grave

In January 2014, firefighters responded to reports of a house fire in Casey, Illinois. Upon arrival, they discovered the remains of Gregory Scott Collins and his German shepherd, Gretchen, inside the burning house. Initially thought to be a tragic accident, the investigation took a dark turn when autopsy results revealed that Collins had died from stab wounds before the fire. The subsequent apprehension of the killer and the motive behind the crime are explored in depth in Investigation Discovery’s ‘Murder in the Heartland’ episode, titled ‘Money is a Motive’ of ‘Murder in the Heartland.’

Gregory Scott Collins Was Killed in His Home

Gregory Scott Collins was born on February 28, 1959, in Mattoon, Illinois, to proud parents Joe Dale Collins and Patricia Ann Gillis. Growing up with two sisters and two brothers, he was known for his pleasant demeanor, dedication to his family, and strong determination to build a successful life. After working as an ironworker in Cincinnati, Ohio, Collins returned to Casey in Clark County, Illinois, where he resided with his cherished German Shepherd companion, Gretchen. He had suffered from an injury and wanted to lead a quiet life in a place that he was familiar with.

Collins was a loving father to his son and was widely regarded in the community as a respected and upright citizen who harbored no animosity toward anyone. He also had a penchant for motorcycles and was often seen riding around town, making the most of his days. Around 3 am on January 15, 2014, neighbors of Collins’ residence in the 700 block of East Jefferson Street alerted the fire department about a fire.

Authorities promptly arrived and extinguished the blaze, discovering the 54-year-old and his loyal dog Gretchen still inside the home, both deceased. Initially deemed an accidental fire, suspicions arose when Collins’ body underwent autopsy, revealing multiple stab wounds. The fire was suspected to be a smokescreen to conceal the murder scene. Consequently, Collins’ death was classified as a homicide, prompting a thorough investigation by law enforcement.

Gregory Scott Collins’ Killer Lived Near His Residence

The police initiated their investigation by searching Gregory Scott Collins’ home, where they discovered a small-caliber handgun. Additionally, traces of blood not belonging to him or his dog Gretchen were found in the basement. On February 26, 2014, Thomas C. Messina was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Messina, who had been residing at a relative’s residence near Collins’ house and lacked a permanent address of his own, was accused by the police of breaking into Collins’ home on the morning of January 15.

Allegedly intending to commit a robbery, Messina was confronted by Collins and subsequently stabbed him. He then proceeded to the basement to confront Gretchen but was bitten, leading to him spilling blood in the house. Police searched Messina’s relative’s residence and recovered a knife and another shotgun belonging to Messina. Despite his claim that he had obtained these weapons from Collins’ home, authorities proceeded to press charges. On August 8, 2014, additional charges of aggravated arson, residential arson, unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon, and aggravated cruelty to animals were brought against him. Messina had prior records from 2011 on damage to state property, theft, and theft of a vehicle and had served about three years in prison.

Thomas Messina is Serving His Sentence Today

During a pre-trial hearing, Messina pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, prompting prosecutors to prepare for trial. However, on April 9, 2015, Messina changed his plea to guilty for one count of first-degree murder, resulting in the dismissal of the remaining charges. He received a mandatory sentence of 45 years, with credit for the 408 days already served. At his sentencing hearing, Messina informed the judge that he comprehended the implications of the guilty plea.

Additionally, Messina’s defense counsel requested a mental health and substance abuse treatment leave on his behalf. In March 2020, he filed a petition to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging that he had made the plea due to inadequate counsel from his defense team. He claimed that his requests for new counsel were ignored. Messina asserted that he was coerced into pleading guilty by being informed that he would face a harsher sentence if he went to trial. Additionally, he stated that he was told his mother and grandmother would testify against him during the trial.

Messina argued that he was only 19 years old at the time of the murder and 20 when he entered the guilty plea, suggesting he was too young and immature to comprehend the implications and laws involved fully. After his requests were analyzed, his plea was dismissed. Now 30 years old, he serves his sentence at the Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner, Illinois. Messina’s earliest projected parole year is 2063, with a discharge projected for 2066, marking a prolonged period of incarceration ahead.

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