CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three years after the murder of a young woman who came to America for life-saving surgery, the man charged with killing her was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Tigist Yemane was born in southern Ethiopia.
As a teenager, she struggled to survive with a heart defect that couldn't be treated in her country.
That's what first brought Yemane to America. A Charlotte doctor got her a temporary visa to the United States, so she could get her live-saving surgery.
For Yemane, the visa was the chance of a new life. After her surgery, she went home to Ethiopia then returned to the U.S. to try to make a life for herself.
“My contact with her was divine. She came here and said immediately nobody had ever loved and treated her like this. And we became family,” said the Rev. Loretta Caldwell, a friend.
It wasn’t easy. She was homeless for years and ended up in a local ministry that takes in homeless women.
Over the next two years Yemane, now her in 20s, got a visa and a job. That's when she started dating Davon Thomas, the man who killed her.
A judge found Thomas not guilty in the murder, by reason of insanity. He is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Doctors said Thomas believed Muslims were going to launch an attack on this country. Thomas' parents said when they found him beating Yemane in 2009, he accused her of being a Muslim spy.
He then shot and killed her.
"I know God placed her in my life for a reason and to think someone could take that away so easily is hard,” said a friend.
While the charges against Thomas have been dismissed, he will be committed to a state 24-hour facility for the mentally ill.
He cannot be released unless he can prove in court that he is no longer a danger to others.