MACHIAS, Maine — A Washington County Superior Court jury of six men and six women was scheduled to resume deliberating Friday the case of a Calais man accused of committing sex crimes against three young girls.
The panel deliberated a little over four hours Thursday before Justice E. Allen Hunter dismissed them about 5:45 p.m. with instructions to return shortly before 9 a.m. Friday.
Clifford Thornton II, 52, is on trial for one count of gross sexual assault and seven counts of unlawful sexual contact. The alleged offenses, which purportedly took place in Thornton’s home or on his property, date to the mid-1990s, with the most recent offense in 2008. The three victims were under age 14 at the time.
The three victims, now 16, 20 and 25 years old, testified against Thornton, but he took the witness stand Wednesday to deny their allegations.
At one point during its deliberations Thursday, the jury returned to the courtroom, requesting the court reporter read back the testimony offered by Thornton and his wife, Lisa, a process that took about 50 minutes.
In closing arguments to the jury Thursday morning, defense attorney Stephen Smith attacked the credibility of the three victims, comparing their claims to the sensational witch trials in Salem, Mass. Two girls accused numerous people of witchcraft in 1692, claims that resulted in 20 executions, he said, although historians later blamed the accounts of the girls on family feuding.
Smith referred to the “magic thinking” of Thornton’s accusers and added, “Mr. Thornton must have … magical powers.”
He suggested that two victims fabricated their accounts in order to divert attention from problems they developed subsequent to the abuse incidents about which they testified.
“So why is she doing this?” asked Smith, referring to the 16-year-old who accused Thornton of forcing her to perform oral sex on him. She admitted cutting herself with sharp instruments, which Smith attributed to mental illness. The teen was attempting to divert attention from her problems and to engender sympathy for herself, he argued.
Smith also referred to testimony by one victim who recalled that at about age 2, Thornton was sexually aroused in her presence and forced her to touch him.
“Two! Two! Two!” exclaimed Smith. The victim testified she has hated Thornton since then, noted Smith.
Smith referred to another incident described by the same witness in which she was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by Thornton. While driving, he masturbated, according to her testimony. Smith referred to the alleged incident as “perhaps his most powerful bit of magic. … Pretty amazing stuff.”
“It’s all magical. … Magical thinking,” Smith said.
There was “not one bit of corroborating evidence” to support the testimony of the accusers, he summed up.
First Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh pointed in his closing argument to the “minute details” the accusers had recounted in their testimony, and he contrasted some of their words with Thornton’s denials. For example, one woman accused Thornton of groping her while giving her a ride on a snowmobile. He denied even having given her a ride.
“The girls are crystal clear,” argued Cavanaugh.
He also reminded the jury of testimony by other witnesses — even defense witnesses — who remembered that Thornton offered to play video games with the 16-year-old when she was 10 and took her into his bedroom ostensibly for that purpose during a family gathering. Thornton disputed that testimony. That was where and when he sexually assaulted her, the victim testified earlier.
“Everybody’s wrong except him,” said Cavanaugh, mocking Thornton’s version of the events.
“The evidence, the testimony, the law is just the opposite. … He’s wrong. Your verdict should be guilty eight times,” concluded Cavanaugh.
Thornton faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of gross sexual assault. He could receive up to five to 10 years in prison on each of the other charges.
The charge of gross sexual assault pertains to the 16-year-old. Six counts of unlawful sexual contact — any touching of the genitals, even when the victim is clothed — pertained to a second victim, and one count to a third.
The jury traveled by bus to Calais on Monday to visit the Thornton home and property where the crimes allegedly occurred. Attorneys for both sides and Hunter also traveled there to accompany the jury.
Thornton was arrested in August 2011 and has remained free on bond.
Thornton’s wife, Lisa, operates a licensed day care facility out of a portion of the home. However, she told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that her husband is not allowed in the home while children are in day care in the house.