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Jury finds Thornhill guilty on all but one count

November 9, 2012

Christopher Thornhill

BROOKVILLE — The trial of Christopher Thornhill ended on Thursday with him being found guilty of all but one of the counts with which he was charged in a shooting that took place in Punxsutawney on Sept. 22, 2011.

The victims in the incident were Punxsutawney residents Shane Glatt and Richard White Jr., both of whom survived with serious injuries.

Thornhill was found guilty of one count of attempted homicide against Glatt, four counts of aggravated assault against Glatt and White (two causing serious bodily injury and two causing injury with a deadly weapon), two counts of simple assault against White and Glatt, one count of a person not to possess a firearm and one count of receiving stolen property.

He was found not guilty of one count of attempted homicide against White.

District Attorney Jeff Burkett represented the Commonwealth on the prosecution, and defense attorney Fred Hummel represented Thornhill.

The testimonies continued on the last day as the defense called its own witnesses to the stand.

The first of these was John K. Smith, who lived in the house in front of which the incident occurred, along with his late significant other, who was referred to as Mary throughout the trial.

The house was referenced repeatedly by multiple witnesses as John and Mary's house, and it was said to be the location where many of them purchased heroin and other drugs from Thornhill.

Smith said he was familiar with Thornhill, who was known to his associates by the name Black. Thornhill lived in the residence at Mary's request, Smith said.

He said that on the day of the incident, he had seen Thornhill with an individual whose name he could not recall. Later in the trial, police reports established that he was referring to Nain Sturges, who acted as a witness on the first day of testimonies.

Sturges was reportedly the first person on the scene and the one who took the victims, Glatt and White, to the hospital. Sturges said he had been a customer of Thornhill's.

Smith said that at one point that day, he had seen Sturges and Thornhill in an alley talking. He said he heard Sturges tell Thornhill that drugs and money had been stolen from him.

Previously in the trial, Glatt and White had admitted to stealing a safe of money and drugs from Thornhill's room, which was ostensibly the motive for the shooting.

Smith said that Sturges appeared to be trying to agitate Thornhill into retaliating. He said Sturges told Thornhill to stay where he was and that Glatt and White would be arriving soon. Smith said Sturges at one point made a phone call.

He also said that Sturges was outside with Smith when Glatt and White pulled up in White's vehicle.

As Burkett cross-examined Smith, there arose some confusion as to whether Smith had been outside or inside when he supposedly overhead Sturges and Thornhill talking, based on earlier interviews with police.

Smith established that he had gone outside for a walk earlier but had come back and overheard from inside.

He added that, at one point, Thornhill had come inside frustrated and asked him how he let someone steal from the house.

In response to further questioning, Smith said that he knew Thornhill was dealing drugs but did not personally take anything from him.

At the time of the shooting, Smith said that both Sturges and Thornhill were outside. He said he recalled hearing Thornhill shouting things to the effect of, "Give me back what you stole," and, "Why did you go in my room?"

Shortly afterward, there were gunshots. He said Mary closed the door. He heard someone drive off, but he did not go outside to see what had happened.

He said he had been under the influence of his medication that night. When asked, Smith said that he recalled the presence of Rebecca Siceloff, another day one witness and customer of Thornhill's.

Burkett said that some of what Smith had just testified to was missing from his report to Punxsy Borough Officer Kirk Brudnock, who had served as a witness the day before.

Burkett said that Punxsy Borough Officer Pat Renwick and State Trooper John Young, who led the investigation, had advised him that Smith had appeared to be under the influence of something that night.

Smith said he did not speak to police on the night of the incident.
In response to further questioning from Hummel, Smith said it appeared to him that Sturges had set it up.

"He was there at every turn," Smith said.

Hummel also called Punxsutawney Borough Police Officer Jeffrey Winfield to the stand.

He showed Winfield a particular police report he had written, asking him to confirm it and the dates that appeared on it.

He also questioned Winfield about Glatt's vehicle. Winfield said he had been aware the vehicle was being held and that it had been released, which was the decision of the department, not him.

After Winfield stepped down, the defense and prosecution both rested their cases and made their final statements.

Hummel, who went first, called a number of things to attention.

Many of the witnesses, he said, were facing charges of their own and potentially embellished their accounts in order to receive favorable treatment.

He called the trustworthiness of a few of them into question as well, particularly a handful who were facing theft-related charges.

Hummel was especially curious about Sturges. He wondered if his omission from Siceloff's account was deliberate or a result of Siceloff's poor memory of that day.

He pointed out that Sturges had testified to being aware Thornhill possessed a gun and that he didn't call 9-1-1 upon going to the aid of his injured friends.

He also reminded the jury that Sturges had disposed of some drugs that were in the vehicle before police were able to inspect it and wondered if that was all he disposed of.

Hummel also drew attention to Sturges's somewhat hostile demeanor toward him during his cross-examination.

He also asked questions about the integrity of the scene, which had already been tampered with when Sturges put White and Glatt into the vehicle and drove them to the hospital himself.

He pointed out that, according to the statements of Young and Trooper Dana Mosier, the vehicle had likely been unattended at the hospital for at least half an hour before Mosier was left to guard it.

Hummel also reminded the jury that both Glatt and White had admitted to lying under oath at the preliminary hearing. White had also pled the Fifth, despite having already confessed everything to the police.

Hummel also criticized elements of the investigation itself. He called particular attention to the lack of testing at every turn — close examination of the vehicle, DNA testing of blood and other items on the scene, more in-depth study of White and Glatt's clothing, etc.

The day before, the defense had a firearms expert, Frederick M. Wentling, testify to the fact that many important things about the incident could not be determined from mere photographs of the vehicle.

Hummel expressed frustration with the fact that the vehicle was released on Oct. 6, 2011, when the incident had only occurred on Sept. 22 of the same year.

In his own closing statement, Burkett invoked a saying he said he often uses in the courtroom: "When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail."

He said the defense was focused on what was not done and what the prosecution didn't have and was not addressing what it had done and what it did have.

He asked why White and Glatt, who identified Thornhill in court, would point out the wrong person when both had suffered life-altering injuries at his hands. He also pointed out that, even in their fear and disorientation at the hospital that night, they had informed emergency physician Erin Bowser that the shooter was an African American male who went by the name
Black.

Burkett said that the layout of the evidence on the scene, including shells, blood and personal items, matched Glatt's story of crab-walking around his vehicle, trying to get away.

His wounds, which Bowser said had puzzled her due to their appearance in the protected groin area, also supported this story, Burkett said.

Burkett said that White's injuries matched his story of trying to escape out the passenger side of the vehicle while Thornhill approached, especially given that a scrap of fabric that was found in an apparent bullet hole on the door was the same color as the shirt White had been
wearing.

Burkett thought there was no basis for a self-defense argument, as the first shots Glatt took had been to his back, and a person on the ground crab-walking is not much of a threat.

Burkett also referred to the account of Michael Clark, a prior day witness who testified Thornhill had told him he shot two individuals and was surprised that one of them was still alive, was the nail in the coffin, along with text messages that passed between Sturges and Thornhill after the event and a phone call that was made to Tasha Clinger, another of Thornhill's customers, who also
testified.

Burkett also reminded the jury that the prosecution's firearms expert, Corporal David Burlingame, had identified bullet fragments taken from Glatt's body, the vehicle and a washing machine at a location where two witnesses, Michael Altman III and Martha Smith, had testified Thornhill had done target shooting, as having come from the same gun — the one located in Thornhill's apartment whose serial number matched that of a gun that had been reported stolen by Punxsutawney resident Steven
Blystone.

Following the closing statements, the jury deliberated and reached its verdict.

Sentencing is set for Wednesday.

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