A 17-year-old testified Tuesday that she never wanted to go through with the murder of a 59-year-old Fort Worth woman, but gave in because she was scared of the 22-year-old man accused of capital murder in the case.
The teen, 16 at the time of the slaying, pled guilty to the lesser offense of murder in the death of Adrian Thornton and was sentenced to 30 years behind bars Tuesday.
She previously told police that she had dated David Rhone, who remains jailed awaiting trial on the capital charge. But in court Tuesday, she testified that Rhone was never her boyfriend but rather a onetime friend who beat her and forced her to become his “moneymaker” after she rejected his request to be his girlfriend.
Rhone forced her to prostitute herself out of a walk-in closet in a residence where they were staying, she said. Later, she said, Rhone insisted she take part in the robbery of Thornton, a woman for whom he worked running errands.
“He was just like, ‘Man, I need to make some money. You’re not making me enough money,’ ” the teen testified.
She tried to talk Rhone out of the robbery and told him that she would not participate, she said. But she gave in after he repeatedly beat her and threatened her life.
The teen testified that shortly before the robbery, Rhone told her about a “change in plans” — that he now intended to kill Thornton instead of just tying her up and robbing her.
“I was telling him, ‘No, no, no.’ That’s when the beatings came again, so I just gave in,” the teen testified.
The teen is not being identified because she was a juvenile at the time of the killing and her case was handled in juvenile court. Originally charged with capital murder, the teen reached an agreement Thursday with prosecutors in which she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of murder.
On Tuesday, state District Judge Jean Boyd gave her the agreed-upon term of 30 years behind bars.
Under “determinate sentencing,” the teen will initially serve time at a juvenile facility, with possible transfer to an adult prison before her 19th birthday.
Rhone was arrested on an unrelated warrant in September and charged with capital murder in December. He remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Tuesday with bail set at $500,000.
A longtime friend reported Thornton missing to Fort Worth police on June 15. Authorities believe that Thornton was killed May 25.
On June 24, a road crew found some of the missing woman’s burned property, including a key chain and a debit card, outside Marlin in Falls County.
Almost three months later, on Sept. 22, a man looking for deer found Thornton’s car hidden in the woods of Falls County. In the trunk, authorities found what would later be identified through dental records as Thornton’s remains wrapped in a comforter.
An autopsy determined that she died of multiple stab wounds to the upper chest.
What really happened
The teen’s account Tuesday of the slaying and the days surrounding it was the latest of differing versions she has given to authorities.
Rhone’s arrest warrant affidavit indicates that the teen initially denied knowing Rhone or Thornton but later told investigators she had stood outside Thornton’s home while Rhone, whom she was dating, killed the woman.
On Thursday, prosecutor Riley Shaw read aloud testimony from a handful of witnesses. That included summaries of interviews given by the teen and her boyfriend to homicide Detective J. Cedillo, in which the pair acknowledged hatching a plan to rob and murder Thornton but blamed each other for the killing.
In a Dec. 12 interview, Rhone told homicide Detective J. Cedillo that his girlfriend attacked Thornton inside her Woodhaven home in the 5600 block of Oakmont Lane with a hammer May 25, then stabbed her to death with a knife.
Rhone told Cedillo that the pair stole cash, jewelry and Thornton’s car and later returned to the house to clean up the crime scene and dispose of Thornton’s body and car in a field outside Marlin.
In her account Tuesday, the teen said she had followed Rhone’s order to go to Thornton’s house to make sure everything was clear. She said she and the older woman talked for a couple of hours before the teen unlocked a door for Rhone and called him to alert him that he could come over while Thornton was out of the room.
Minutes later, she said, Rhone entered the house and asked to speak to a surprised Thornton.
Rhone then struck Thornton repeatedly in the head with a hammer in the laundry room.
She was screaming, asking him to stop and why was he doing this,” the teen testified. “She was just saying, ‘Stop! Stop! Please!’ I just sat there in shock.”
The teen said she was going to run from the house when the attack moved into the garage. But Rhone, after sending Thornton crumpling to the floor with a hard strike, ran after the teen, putting her in a chokehold and placing a knife to her throat, she said.
“He was like, ‘Ah, you’re trying to run? You’re going to be just like her,’ ” the teen said.
The teen said she was dragged to the garage, where Thornton was standing and opening the garage door. She said Rhone pushed the button to make the door go back down, then began stabbing Thornton in the chest until she was dead.
“I just saw her breathe her last breath,” the teen testified. “I stood there staring at her in shock. I could feel her spirit when she passed away. I felt her spirit walk past me. I broke down crying and I threw up.”
The next day, after driving Thornton’s car to visit the teen’s dad in Marlin, the couple headed toward Corpus Christi because, she said, Rhone wanted to see the beach.
He later changed his mind, and they returned to Thornton’s house, where they cleaned up the crime scene and put Thornton’s body in the trunk.
Following Thornton in her grandmother’s van, the teen said, the pair drove back to Marlin, where they hid the car in a field.
The teen testified that she and Thornton visited several pawnshops to pawn Thornton’s jewelry. She said Thornton later returned to Thornton’s house to steal more.
In questioning the teen, prosecutor Tasha Foster repeatedly asked whether she alerted anyone that Rhone was holding her hostage all those months or ever tried to flee the apartment when Rhone left her alone.
The teen acknowledged that she never did, claiming she was scared by Rhone’s threats against her and her family.
Foster also pointed out that while Rhone was in jail, the teen had visited him and lived for a time with his family.
Lived on her faith
Before the teen’s sentencing, Walter Williams, Thornton’s nephew, addressed the girl, telling her that his aunt was one of those rare people who lived their faith and went beyond what 99.9 percent of people do to help others transform their lives.
“I need you to appreciate what kind of rare person, rare gift, that you helped remove from the world and hope that you can try to change your life to make up for that,” Williams said.
“You can’t make up for it — not to us, really, not to the world, the people she helped and probably not even to yourself — but you really do need to try.”
Anthony Simpson, the teen’s attorney, told Boyd that the teen had faced every bad thing that can be visited upon a child, including being born to a 12-year-old mother, being moved from home to home and being sexually assaulted. He said she has anxiety, depression, and — since Thornton’s slaying — post-traumatic stress disorder.
Simpson told Boyd that he has witnessed a great change in the teen in the past three months with the structure of juvenile detention and that he believes she will continue to do well in the juvenile correctional system. He said the teen now wants to be a counselor and minister to help others going through what she did.
The teen cried as she addressed Williams and his family and apologized for her role in the slaying.
“I am sincerely sorry for my part that I have done. I just pray and I hope that y’all will be able to forgive me. I am trying to forgive myself for what I’ve done. I know that she was a good person,” the teen said.