A third teen charged in the case pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated assault and was placed on probation.
Thornton was a 2010 Thunder Mountain High School graduate, who was visiting in the south at the time of the assault.
Seventh Judicial District Circuit Judge Ed Koon sentenced Richard Shelby Whybark, 18, and Timothy Tyler Norwood, 18, to a term of 20 years each in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Koon sentenced 17-year-old Clinton Lavon Ross to serve five years of supervised probation.
The three were charged as adults with second degree murder after Thornton died from injuries one week after being assaulted on a country road near Glen Rose in July 2011. At the time of the incident, Whybark was 17 and Norwood and Ross were 16.
According to a probable cause statement accepted as fact by the court, Norwood struck Thornton one time and knocked him to the ground unconscious. Whybark then repeatedly kicked Thornton in the head and face and dragged him to a roadside ditch, according to the statement.
Thornton, 19, was visiting Malvern. He and a second victim, Jerry Haynes, were wallking down Traskwood Road when the boys stopped their truck and assaulted Thornton. The statement said Ross never struck Thornton, but chased Haynes, who was uninjured.
A then-14-year-old male, who was in the truck with the other three boys, was not charged in the incident because he did not participate in the assault.
Hot Spring County Sheriff’s investigators have called Thornton’s assault a case of complete random violence.
Seventh Judicial District Prosecutor Eddy Easley echoed the thought.
“It was just a senseless act of violence done to a young man that had never been in any trouble nor did he do anything to provoke this violence. They just picked him out at random,” Easley said. “Our plea today, our only hope is for the family. They are grieving, they’ve cooperated with us greatly, they’re good people. We hope that what happened today will bring them some type of closure and maybe just a little peace.”
Before the three were escorted from the courtroom, Darlene Thornton, Kevin’s mother, addressed the three teens. In a prepared victim impact statement, Mrs. Thornton spoke about how the Thornton family has been affected by Kevin’s death.
“Kevin’s death has been devastating to our whole family. It has hit us all emotionally, financially and some of us physically. You have taken away the life of our son, the wedding that we will never have, the grandchildren we will never hold, and the brother that his sister misses so strongly. Only in time will justice truly be served,” Mrs. Thornton said.
The maximum sentence Whybark and Norwood would have faced was 30 years. Under current Arkansas sentencing guidelines, they must serve half their 20-year sentences before they will be eligible for parole, less credit earned for good time as well as credit for time served awaiting trial and awaiting prison bed space.
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