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Thornton v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 16, 2015


Cert. applied for.

Conspiracy, etc. Wayne Superior Court. Before Judge Wilkes.

Jonathan P. Lockwood, Kevin R. Gough, for appellant.

Jacquelyn L. Johnson, District Attorney, Andrew J. Ekonomou, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

McMILLIAN, Judge. Phipps, C. J., and Ellington, P. J., concur.


Page 280

McMillian, Judge.

Appellant Patti Thornton (hereinafter " appellant" )[1] was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, making false statements, and tampering with evidence; her co-defendant, Walter Booth, was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and making false statements. A jury found appellant not guilty of murder but guilty of the remaining charges, and the same jury acquitted Booth of murder and conspiracy to commit murder but found him guilty of making false statements. Appellant now appeals from the denial of her motion for new trial, arguing that the trial court should have vacated her conviction for conspiracy because the jury's verdict finding her guilty is inconsistent with its verdict acquitting Booth, her only alleged co-conspirator; the evidence is insufficient to support her convictions for conspiracy and tampering with evidence; and her trial counsel was ineffective. As more fully set forth below, we find no basis for reversal and affirm.

Construed to support the jury's verdict,[2] the evidence shows that sometime in the spring or summer of 2007, appellant, who was married to the victim, Richard (" Shell" ) Thornton III, began having an illicit relationship with her co-worker Booth, who was also

Page 281

married.[3] Witnesses testified that Booth was protective and jealous of appellant at work, made statements that Shell mistreated appellant, and told co-workers that he would kill anyone who " mess[ed] with" appellant. On one occasion, appellant asked a co-worker to deliver a note to Booth that said " I love you," and she sent Booth numerous e-mails throughout the summer and into the winter of 2007, expressing her love for Booth and her desire to be with him. Appellant also frequently wrote of her hatred for her husband, his mistreatment of her, and her desperate desire to have him " gone for good" from her life, primarily so that she could spend more time with Booth. She regularly entreated Booth to help her " out [of] this hell-hole," said she could not take it anymore and wanted it over with, and in November 2007, reminded Booth that he " promised it would be done before Thanksgiving."

[331 Ga.App. 192] Several weeks later, on the morning of December 14, 2007, a sheriff's deputy who had been summoned to the house by appellant found Shell dead in the bedroom he shared with appellant. Georgia Bureau of Investigation (" GBI" ) agents were primarily responsible for conducting the investigation into the murder, and appellant and other family members were interviewed on the day of the murder and on several subsequent occasions. Appellant told investigators that her daughter Kristin Eunice called her early that morning and asked appellant to bring Eunice her driver's license at work. Appellant said she woke her two teenage sons, Cole Richard Shelley Thornton (" Cole" ) and Seth Eunice (" Seth" ),[4] so that they could get ready for school and that she also spoke to Shell who asked her to make a bank deposit while she was out. Appellant told investigators she took the money to make the deposit and then left the house to take Eunice her driver's license, make the bank deposit, and run some other errands. Appellant said she then stopped at her mother's house, which was located nearby.

Appellant told investigators that she returned home and that when she walked in the door, she immediately noticed a bowl of change had been knocked over and that several guns were lying on the floor. She told police that she started yelling for Shell, but then she noticed that their bedroom door was open, which she said had been closed when she left that morning. Appellant said she became frightened someone was in the house, so she left and went back to her mother's house. She told her mother to call police, but then decided to drive to the home of a sheriff's deputy who lived nearby because she thought he would get to her house faster.[5] The deputy returned with her to the house, where he found Shell lying in the bedroom with several gunshot wounds to the head, at least one of which could have been fatal by itself.

Seth and Cole also testified about the events the morning of December 14, 2007. Cole testified that his mother woke him up early and told him that she needed to take Eunice's license to her at work, so he got up and showered and then woke up his brother. Seth and Cole testified they left the house between 7:10 and 7:30 that morning and exited through a door in the carport, which was typically kept unlocked and which they did not lock that morning. They said that when they left, their parents' bedroom door was closed, and they did not see or speak to Shell, whom they assumed was still ...

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