STAR CITY — A Lincoln County man will spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of capital murder Thursday night.
Justin Thornton, 22, was convicted in the shooting death of Kwame Turner, 22, of Star City on Sept. 29, 2011.
Thornton waived a jury trial and Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole after the three-day trial, which began Tuesday.
In addition to capital murder, Thornton had been charged with abuse of a corpse, being a felon in possession of a firearm and theft of property, all stemming from an incident at Thornton’s home on Boston Road in rural Lincoln County.
In addition to the life-without-parole sentence on the murder charge, Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said, Jones sentenced Thornton to 20 years in prison on the charge of abuse of a corpse with a 10-year enhancement for using a firearm during the commission of the crime, with both sentences to run after the life sentence.
Thornton was sentenced to 20 years on the firearms charge, and one year in jail on a charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle, reduced from the theft-of-property charge, and those sentences will run at the same time as the other sentences.
The total sentence was life in prison without parole plus 35 years, said Hunter, who represented the state during the trial along with Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau. Attorney John Cone from the Public Defender’s Office represented Thornton.
Turner’s body was found in a ditch off a gravel road in Lincoln County on Sept. 30, 2011, and Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies began an investigation that led to a relative of Thornton telling investigators they had seen Turner’s car at Thornton’s house and heard a shot at about 8:30 p.m. the previous night.
Thornton reportedly told the relative that the gun went off when he dropped it, Hunter said.
Another of Thornton’s relatives who was interviewed by investigators said they had seen Turner’s car backed up to the back door of Thornton’s house the night of the shooting.
Hunter said the car was found at an apartment complex at 26th Avenue and Laurel Street in Pine Bluff, and when it was processed by Pine Bluff Police, Turner’s blood was found on the bumper of the car and in the trunk.
A search warrant that was served at Thornton’s house in Lincoln County resulted in investigators finding Turner’s blood on the floor and on a chair, and indications that efforts had been made to clean up the blood.
Investigators also learned that Thornton had gone to visit a friend two blocks from where the car was found, and Thornton was located the next day at the Executive Inn in Pine Bluff, where he was registered under another name.
That arrest was made by Jefferson and Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies, Hunter said.
When he was interviewed, Thornton denied any involvement and also denied that Turner had been to his house.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Turner died as a result of a gunshot wound to the left side of the head, with the bullet exiting the head and lodging in Turner’s arm.
The State Crime Laboratory determined that the bullet, a .45-caliber, had been fired from a Hi-Point semiautomatic pistol and testimony at the trial indicated that Thornton had owned a .45-caliber Hi-Point semiautomatic pistol.
In addition to the bullet and blood evidence from the car and house, Hunter said investigators discovered a partial footprint at the site where the body was dumped and it was the same size and type as the shoes Thornton was wearing when he was arrested.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department investigated the case, with assistance from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department in arresting Thornton. Crime scene technicians from the Pine Bluff Police Department processed Turner’s vehicle.
“They all did a good job gathering, preserving and analyzing the evidence in this case, evidence that tied the defendant directly to the crime,” Hunter said.
Thornton had a prior conviction from Lincoln County on a robbery charge from 2008 and was on parole at the time of the incident. He was returned to prison after the trial and is being held at Varner Supermax, according to the Department of Correction website.