Life in prison for murder

MCCONNELSVILLE-As he neared the official decree of his lifetime sentence in Morgan County Common Pleas Court Monday, Thomas Matthew Pace sought out the mother of the man he is convicted of murdering and apologized for her loss.

“The day started with me celebrating my daughter’s eighth birthday and it ended in the death of someone else’s child. I don’t know who Mrs. Drone is,” said Pace as he faced Drone’s family and waited for a response. “Ma’am, I’m really sorry about that. I really am.”

But Pace, 51, of Malta, went on to contend that he didn’t deliver the fatal stab wounds that killed the man and confirmed that he plans to appeal the case.

Pace was found guilty of Drone’s Nov. 2 murder July 17 after a three-day trial and three hours of jury deliberation in Morgan County Common Pleas Court.

Drone, 33, a Columbus-area native, was spending the day with Pace’s former friend Danny Jones on the day of his death. Jones had recently had a falling out with Pace over suspicions Pace was having a relationship with his wife, and according to testimony from Pace and others, tensions boiled over that day.

Though Pace was found guilty of delivering the fatal stab wounds when he traveled to Jones’ house that night, he reiterated in court Monday his assertion from the night of the fight and throughout the trial that he had never had a sharp weapon.

“I think Danny stabbed Dustin trying to stab me,” said Pace.

At the sentencing, Drone’s family shared fond memories of their loved one and spoke of how his death has affected them.

“Dustin was smart, hard-working, good-natured,” said his mother, Deborah Drone.

She took issue with some of the testimony at trial, saying some was untrue. Her son would not have been one to initiate a fight, she said.

“It just wasn’t in his nature,” she said.

She teared up as she recalled the past year, burying her son, and being forced to celebrate every major holiday without him.

One of three brothers, Dustin’s death has left a void in the life of his two surviving brothers, said older brother Darrell Drone Jr.

“It’s like a puzzle with a few pieces missing. It’ll never be the same again,” he said.

Pace sometimes gave his attention to family members as they read and at times appeared to become emotional, putting his head on the defense table.

Drone’s mother reiterated the suggestion made by Morgan County Prosecutor Mark Howdyshell in asking for the maximum penalty to be levied against Pace.

Murder carries a definite sentence of life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 15 years. Because Pace was found to be a repeat violent offender, Morgan County Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Favreau had the option to add an additional 10 years to Pace’s parole eligibility, which he did.