Victim in crowbar attack: 'Send them off to prison'

Cary Ashby • Jan 10, 2014 at 10:07 PM

"Send them off to prison for what they did to me."

That's what victim Austin Thornton briefly said to the judge Thursday about the fate of Bellevue resident Connor C.D. Holbrook, 20, of 840 Kilbourne St. In late November, a Huron County Common Pleas Court jury found Holbrook guilty of one count each of complicity to commit felonious assault, complicity to tampering with evidence and obstructing justice.

The convictions are for a crowbar-related assault in the driveway of a rural Willard home. About 12:30 p.m. April 21, Holbrook's best friend, Tyler J. Smith, smashed Thornton's skull.

Holbrook, who drive Smith to and from the Peru Township crime scene, was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday.

"Forgiveness may come later in life. ... but not now," the victim's mother, Angela Thornton told Holbrook before he learned his fate.

"I wonder if you thought your best friend was worth it," she said during an often emotional reading of a prepared statement.

Kevin Thornton, the victim's father, told Holbrook he "may have had the wrong choice in friends" and was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I think we're going to be OK -- finally," said the father, whose voice cracked as he spoke Thursday.

Smith, 19, of Bellevue, is serving nine years in prison for attempted murder. Holbrook's girlfriend, Brianna M. Boonie, 19, of 154 S. Hamilton St., Apt. 212, Bellevue, faces nine months to three years in prison when she is sentenced Feb. 6 for obstructing justice.

The victim's mother told Holbrook he "knew how everything would happen" since Smith had the crowbar with him in the truck as they drove from Bellevue to Peru Township. Witnesses testified that Smith planned to confront Austin Thornton about possibly dating his ex-girlfriend, who was living at the house were Thornton was staying that night. Attorneys and witnesses said a vulgar "Twitter war" led to the attempted murder.

"You had every chance to stop it," Angela Thornton told Holbrook, who mostly looked ahead without emotion as she spoke.

The victim's mother recounted how the last nine months "have felt like nine years" and when she sat by her son's hospital bed, she wondered if she ever would see him smile or his green eyes. The Dayton-area victim required two brain surgeries before he eventually was released from a Dayton rehabilitation facility.

"He lost months of memories he might never get back," his mother said.

"He's changed. He needs 24-hour supervision," said Angela Thornton, whose son -- a star baseball player and bowler in high school -- recently told her always feels like someone has to baby-sit him.

Holbrook turned from the podium in the courtroom and addressed the victim and his family Thursday.

"You're right; I don't know you. I don't expect you to ever forgive me," the defendant said. "I want you to know I'm sorry for what he (Smith) did to you."

Holbrook's father, Clive, after the hearing told the Reflector he and his son didn't directly talk about the assault after it happened. While he said he's glad his son never hit Austin Thornton and he believes the attack was horrible, Clive Holbrook said his son, Smith and Boonie made a "dumb decision."

"I think they made a blind decision. I don't think he (my son) thought it through -- like so many young people," he said.

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler requested Connor Holbrook serve six years in prison.

"It's hard to know what the right sentence should be for something like this," said Leffler, who mentioned the circumstances of the attack involved a "peculiar" set of relationships.

"There was some planning here," the prosecutor said, stressing the attack wasn't a "sudden affray at a bar."

"I do think a prison term is necessary. ... Justice is served by that kind of sentence," Leffler continued. "He doesn't deserve the eight years. He wasn't the main perpetrator."

Judge Jim Conway, before announcing the prison term, told Holbrook he was concerned about a recent incident while he was out on bond in which there was a car wreck and a confrontation. The Bellevue Police Department responded. Conway told the defendant he would have revoked his bond if he had heard about it before Thursday's sentencing.

"It shows the court you continue to make bad decisions," the judge said.

Holbrook, when asked about the incident, said it was "a wrestling match with someone I've known since I was 11 years old."

"I was acting like a child. No one was hurt. I believe he received the same charge I received," Holbrook said without elaborating. "It was a dumb incident between two friends."

Conway told Holbrook he doesn't believe he has shown genuine remorse about the crowbar attack. The judge said it was clear through the course of the several-day trial that Holbrook "knew this was going to take place and you did nothing to stop it."

Holbrook must pay nearly $19,000 in restitution to Thornton and about $13,000 to his mother. He can apply for early release no sooner than six months after he's in prison. Holbrook will be on three years of parole once he is out.

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