Attempted murder defendant without 'clean soul' gets nine years in prison

Cary Ashby • Nov 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM

The attempted murder defendant's mother cried loudly after she heard her teenage son would be serving nine years in prison.

Tyler G. Smith, 19, of 223 Hamilton St., Bellevue, smashed the skull of Austin Thornton, 19, with a crowbar in connection with what his attorney called a situation similar to "teenage Peyton Place." The victim had gone to Graham High School in the Dayton area with Smith's ex-girlfriend. He was visiting his friend, who was pregnant with Smith's child, at the time of the April 21 attack in Peru Township.

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler called it a "horrible crime" involving a victim who is an upbeat person and decent athlete.

(NOTE: To see pictures of the sentencing, click HERE.)

Leffler, at Wednesday's sentencing hearing, said a female witness told investigators she heard Thornton's ribs crack with the first strike from the crowbar.

"She heard a shattering noise with the strike to the skull," Leffler said.

It's only through the miracle of medicine that Thornton survived, he said. One doctor gave the victim an 80 percent chance of dying.

"The EMT at the scene thought he had died," Leffler said. "This is the worst form of this offense."

Kevin Thornton, the victim's father, emotionally told the court his son requires constant supervision while he does things like using the stove.

"His personality no longer exists," said the father, who often had to sniff back tears. "He has to have 24-7 supervision. ... He's going to therapy twice week."

After the hearing, Thornton and his girlfriend said they were pleased with the nine-year prison sentence. However, Thornton's father said he was "disappointed in all five of them to put us in the situation we're in."

One of Smith's accomplices, Connor C.D. Holbrook, 19, of 840 Kilbourne St., Bellevue, goes to trial Tuesday. He is charged with conspiracy, attempted murder and obstructing justice as well as two charges of felonious assault. Holbrook earlier posted 10 percent of a $100,000 bond.

"I just hope they come out of this to be men -- be responsible," Thornton said.

Smith's grandfather declined to comment.

Holbrook's girlfriend, Brianna M. Boonie, 19, of Bellevue, has a Dec. 10 trial date on one count each of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder or murder and obstructing justice. She posted a $75,000 bond May 23 -- about four days after being arrested in court on the warrant.

Austin Thornton was clinging to life after the assault. He was released later from a Toledo hospital and then a Dayton-area rehabilitation facility.

Upon leaving the crime scene, Smith told his co-defendants, "I didn't him hit him that hard," Leffler said.

"No, you hit him very hard," the prosecutor said, quoting Boonie.

Even as young as Smith is, Leffler said the defendant "doesn't come here with a clean soul."

"The defendant's record is not so great. After 18 years of age, he stole a lot of money from somebody," Leffler said, referring to a theft case in which the victims simply wanted their money. "His parents bailed him out."

Smith said Wednesday he regrets attacking the victim.

"I lost my mind. ... There's no easy way to get around this," said Smith, who denied going to the Peru Township home to kill Thornton. "I do truly regret what I did."

On Oct. 3, Smith pleaded guilty to attempted murder. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dismissed one count each of conspiracy and tampering with evidence plus two charges of felonious assault.

Defense attorney Tom Nicholson, in an often rambling statement Wednesday, said there's enough "blame here to pass around." When Smith's ex-girlfriend had a "Twitter war" full of vulgar language with another woman that "got others upset" and led to the attempted murder, he said Smith, Holbrook and the victim hardly did anything to intervene while "the women kept this thing going."

"Somebody should have done something; nobody did," said Nicholson, who accused the victim of telling Smith his ex-girlfriend had performed a sex act on him.

"(Smith) saw red, lost his mind and hit the guy. ... This was one blow to the head only," Smith's attorney said. "It's an ugly situation."

Leffler interrupted to say none of this information came out after "a four-hour confession."

"This is not the time to beat up the victim," he said.

Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway said even though Smith believed Thornton was sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, it doesn't justify trying to kill the victim.

"You went there with a sincere threat to kill him," the judge told Smith.

Smith, who will be on five years of mandatory parole after his prison term, must reimburse the victim and his family almost $32,000 for medical expenses.

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