Attorneys: 'Ongoing soap opera' led to crowbar assault

Cary Ashby • Nov 21, 2013 at 12:07 PM

A suspected accomplice who drove his best friend to the scene of a crowbar attack that severely injured a Dayton-area teenager is on trial this week in Huron County Common Pleas Court.

Connor C.D. Holbrook, 19, of 840 Kilbourne St., Bellevue, is charged with one count each of conspiracy, attempted murder and obstructing justice as well as two charges of felonious assault. Holbrook earlier posted 10 percent of a $100,000 bond.

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler, in his opening statement Wednesday, said the question is how Holbrook could be "an innocent bystander" if he drove co-defendant Tyler G. Smith to the Peru Township crime scene, knowing Smith threatened to make the victim "swallow his teeth."

"(He) knew what was going down," Leffler said.

On Nov. 13, Smith, 19, of 223 Hamilton St., Bellevue, was sentenced to nine years in prison for smashing the skull of 19-year-old Austin Thornton with a crowbar. In early October, 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.

Thornton attended Graham High School in the Dayton area with Smith's ex-girlfriend. Thornton was visiting the 19-year-old girl, who was two to three months pregnant with Smith's child, at the time of the April 21 attack. Attorneys have said a vulgar "Twitter war" and texting between Smith's ex-girlfriend and another woman "got others upset" and led to the attempted murder.

Holbrook's defense attorney, Ed Rhode, said his client "never hit anybody" and "never planned to hit anybody." Rhode said Smith, on the night of the assault, was to led to believe his ex-girlfriend was texting him at the same time she was driving to Dayton to pick up the victim -- even though Thornton had driven to the rural Willard home himself -- and this made Smith jealous.

"There was no premeditated thought to take someone else's life. Connor will testify this was a repeating drama -- month after month," Rhode said. "There was no heavy veil of threat."

Citing the "ongoing soap opera" between Smith and his ex-girlfriend, Rhode said their on-again, off-again relationship over the years could be "more defined by their arguments they had" than by being an actual relationship, but since Holbrook is Smith's best friend, he stood by him. Rhode told the jury that Holbrook advised Smith he shouldn't be with his ex-girlfriend.

"You're never going to have a happy life together," Rhode said, referring to what Holbrook allegedly told Smith.

Again reportedly quoting his client, Rhode said, "I'm not going to get into this."

"He didn't have anything to do with this," he added.

Rhode said it's possible testimony will reveal the ex-girlfriend and another accomplice, Brianna M. Boonie, "may have fueled this fire."

Holbrook's girlfriend, 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.

The trio of accomplices went to the Peru Township home supposedly just to have "a rather peaceful conversation," Rhode said, but Smith earlier told the court he "lost his mind." The defendant, when sentenced, denied going to there to kill Thornton.

One doctor gave the victim an 80 percent chance of dying. Leffler said when Willard Police Officer Adam Strong got Thornton out of his friends' vehicle at the hospital, he was "totally limp" and dead weight.

"The EMT at the scene thought he had died," Leffler said when Smith was sentenced.

Leffler told the jurors Wednesday the victim is a "lovely young man" and "hard working kid" who was a "star athlete" in high school.

"What's left is not so great," said Leffler, adding that Thornton has serious short-term memory issues. "He's been put back together after major surgeries.

"He's depressed about it because he remembers he was somebody else," Leffler said. "He doesn't have any memories of what transpired."

Smith first hit the victim in his side with the crowbar. Thornton next was hit on his left temple; Rhode said this pushed the victim's brain to the side by 5 millimeters.

However, Holbrook's attorney said the assault left very little blood on the driveway or on the back seat when Thornton was being driven to Mercy Willard Hospital. Later, a medical helicopter flew him to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo.

Holbrook's attorney said the victim's head injury, although serious, appeared to be "an incidental blow."

"Nobody got their head smashed in. ... It was a very, very unlucky blow for everybody involved," Rhode said.

Jury selection took all of Tuesday and jurors were ushered to the crime scene Wednesday morning.

Testimony continues today.

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