Mental exam ordered for teens in Thornton case

By December 13, 2011Crime & Courts
Three Arkansas teenagers, charged with the murder of Kevin Thornton, of Juneau, will undergo psychiatric evaluations to determine if they are competent to stand trial.

During a hearing Monday in Hot Spring County District Court, Judge Phillip H. Shirron ordered the mental examinations for Richard Shelby Whybark and Timothy Tyler Norwood, both age 17, and 16-year-old Clinton Lavon Ross.

The teens were charged in August with second degree murder and violent group activity in a single case in adult court. They’re accused of beating Kevin Thornton when he was walking with a friend down a Malvern-area road on July 20th. He died seven days later.

Steve Good is a reporter for the Malvern Daily Record. He was in the courtroom Monday when Hot Spring County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Richard Garrett told the court that “this person was simply walking down the road in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Monday’s hearing was originally scheduled to address motions to dismiss or transfer the case to juvenile court, and separate it, so each defendant can be tried individually.

Good says those motions will now be taken up after the mental evaluations are complete, no later than 60 days.

“The judge stated it was his intention to maintain this trial on a fast track and not let it get bogged down,” Good says.

Judge Phillip Shirron did not grant a motion to suppress certain testimony, particularly a statement that one of the defendants laughed during a police interview when he learned that Thornton had died from his injuries.

Good says Shirron also quickly shot down the notion that the case should have been filed in juvenile court. The defense attorneys’ motion called it unconstitutional to file in adult court.

“Their contention was it should have gone to juvenile court first and the hearing held in juvenile court then transferred to adult court,” Good says.

Arkansas law outlines 10 criteria for trying juveniles as adults.

“It has to do with the severity of the crime, the aggressiveness of the crime,” Good says. “The prosecutor stated in his argument they met eight of the ten criteria and that’s why they decided to file it directly.”

Good says Whybark, Ross, and Norwood sat together at Monday’s hearing. They spoke with each other and their lawyers. They were not allowed to have any contact with family members.

The judge also conducted a bond hearing for Whybark, who has been held at Jefferson County Juvenile Justice Complex since August. Good says Judge Shirron set a $40,000 dollar professional cash bond.

“He also set a $15,000 bond as an alternative with the condition that Whybark be monitored electronically,” Good says. “Whybark has no prior juvenile criminal history, according to court testimony that was presented today (Monday).”

Whybark could be released to his family, but confined to his residence. He would not be allowed to have any contact with the other defendants.

“The judge made a condition that he would continue his education and left it open to them with what they could arrange,” Good says. “But he expects him to be being educated during this time.”

He says Whybark has been working on his GED while in custody.

Ross and Norwood have been detained since by the Arkansas Department of Youth Services. If requested by their attorneys, the judge indicated the court could extend bond hearings to the boys once they are released from youth services, sometime next year.

Kenin Thornton was 19 when he died. He was a 2010 graduate of Thunder Mountain High School. His parents, Bill and Darlene Thornton, of Juneau, attended Monday’s hearing in Malvern. Good says they declined to address the court. He says the Thornton’s are to meet with prosecutors before they leave Malvern on Wednesday.

Recent headlines