Judge considers individual trials in Thornton murder case

An Arkansas judge is considering motions to hold separate trials for three Arkansas teenagers charged with second degree murder and violent group activity in connection with the death of Kevin Thornton, of Juneau.

In motions filed in Hot Spring County Circuit Court Wednesday, the teens’ attorneys say a joint trial would violate their rights of due process and a fair trial.

Richard Shelby Whybark and Timothy Tyler Norwood, 17, and 16-year-old Clinton Lavon Ross – all of Malvern, Arkansas — have been charged in a single case in adult criminal court.

If they are tried together, according to the motions, one would be forced to testify against the other.

The court also has been asked to order a mental examination for Ross, the youngest of the trio. A motion was filed yesterday (Wednesday) stating an evaluation is necessary to determine if Ross has the capacity to “appreciate the criminality of his conduct at the time of the alleged offense.”

In charging documents filed with the court, the boys told Hot Spring County Sheriff’s investigators they had been drinking beer at a nearby river then drove along Traskwood Road where they saw Thornton walking with 20-year-old Jerry Haines of Malvern.

The charges indicate that Ross got out of the truck, took a swing at Haines then chased him, but stopped.

Norwood is alleged to have hit Thornton on the side of his face. He fell to the ground and appeared to be having a seizure. Whybark is alleged to have kicked and hit Thornton, then drag him into the ditch.

The charging documents indicate that each teen waived his rights with a parent present and provided signed statements about the incident to investigators.

Late last week, defense attorneys filed motions to suppress those statements. They also petitioned the court to dismiss the case or transfer it to juvenile court.
Those motions were heard by Judge Phillip Shirron on Monday. He has not yet ruled. No date has been set to hear the motion to separate the case and try each teen individually.

Thornton was allegedly beaten on July 20th while he and Haines were walking along Traskwood Road. The 19-year-old Thornton died of his injuries on July 27th. Sheriff’s investigators have called it “completely random violence.” Thornton, a 2010 graduate of Thunder Mountain High School, had been visiting friends in Arkansas.

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