FORT WORTH — Tarrant County jurors who acquitted a defendant of a murder charge Friday later sentenced him to 80 years in prison for tampering with evidence — the evidence in question being, in part, the body of the man he shot 12 times.George Thurston, 56, was found not guilty of killing Walter “James” Anders, 51, a homeless man who was working with him to repair Thurston’s girlfriend’s house in Arlington Heights.Thurston testified that he shot Anders in self-defense when Anders got drunk and pulled a knife.Anders’ body was found May 30, concealed in a sleeping bag that had been tied with nylon rope and discarded near railroad tracks in a semiwooded area west of Eighth Avenue and north of Windsor Place on Fort Worth’s south side.Prosecutors told the jury that Thurston destroyed the gun he used to shoot Anders by dismantling it into 10 pieces, putting the parts inside plastic bags and throwing them in different trash bins.Thurston scoured the crime scene — the girlfriend’s garage — with bleach, plugged in a large fan in the area and placed air fresheners around to mask the smell of the decomposing body, according to authorities.Neither Thurston nor Lisa Juran, Thurston’s girlfriend, called the police about the fatal shooting.Thurston faced a maximum of life in prison because of his criminal record.Timothy Bednarz, who prosecuted the case with Kelly Loftus, told the jury that Thurston was convicted of armed burglary in 1985. After he got out of prison, he racked up misdemeanor convictions including theft, driving while intoxicated and criminal trespass.Bednarz also said that two months before Anders was killed, Thurston was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. When he was arrested, he had a pistol that not only was loaded but also had a shell chambered, Bednarz said after the trial.Thurston’s attorney, Steven Bush, argued for leniency. Thurston is not a public menace and the sentence should be proportional to the crime, Bush said. Bush also asked that the jury consider Thurston’s age.“Five years, which is lowest on the sentencing range, is a long time in prison,” Bush said.Jurors deliberated about five minutes before returning the 80-year sentence.Thurston must serve at least 15 years before he will be eligible for parole, according to state District Judge Mollee Westfall.Juran has been indicted on the same charge — tampering or fabricating physical evidence with the intent to impair a human corpse. No court date is set. She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.Juran, who raises bucking bulls for a living, testified this week that she was at a rodeo when Anders was killed. Several days after she returned home, she helped Thurston load a large object wrapped in a tarp into the bed of her pickup. She thought it was a dead raccoon, Juran said.Juran is a descendant of the Meacham family, and a great-aunt was the widow of Star-Telegram founder Amon G. Carter Sr.
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3