Calais man convicted of six child sex assault crimes, acquitted of two others

Clifford Thornton Jr. (center) is flanked by his legal defense team, including Bangor attorney Stephen Smith (left), as his trial in Washington County Superior Court began in Machias Monday morning. Thornton is accused of committing eight sex crimes with three young girls in his Calais home.
Tim Cox | BDN
Clifford Thornton Jr. (center) is flanked by his legal defense team, including Bangor attorney Stephen Smith (left), as his trial in Washington County Superior Court began in Machias Monday morning. Thornton is accused of committing eight sex crimes with three young girls in his Calais home.
By Tim Cox, BDN Staff
Posted Nov. 22, 2013, at 2:24 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A Calais man accused of sexually abusing three young girls was found guilty Friday of six of the eight charges filed against him.

The Washington County Superior Court jury of six men and six women found Clifford Thornton II, 52, not guilty of the most serious charge of gross sexual assault and guilty of six of seven counts of unlawful sexual contact.

The guilty judgments declared shortly before 11:30 a.m. by the jury foreman against Thornton — who was standing to hear the verdicts — set off tears and audible gasps among both his supporters and accusers.

Thornton’s wife, Lisa, continued weeping quietly in the ensuing minutes as did the young woman whose testimony resulted in the six convictions.

One of Thornton’s convictions is punishable by up to 10 years in prison; the other counts are punishable by up to five years in prison. The difference is based on the age of the victims at the time of the crime. The three accusers were under age 14 when the alleged offenses occurred.

Justice E. Allen Hunter denied a motion by First Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh to have Thornton, a mechanic employed at the Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville, held without bond pending a sentencing hearing. Thornton has been free on an unsecured bond since he was arrested and charged in August 2011.

Cavanaugh argued that Thornton should be held without bond because of the nature of the crimes and the punishment Thornton faces. The defendant is at risk to flee, argued Cavanaugh, who noted that Thornton’s home is up for sale.

However, Bangor defense attorney Stephen Smith said Thornton has been “problem free” while awaiting trial for more than two years. He is not a risk to flee nor is he a danger to anyone, said Smith.

Court officials did not immediately set a date for a sentencing hearing, but Hunter ordered a pre-sentencing evaluation of Thornton.

Cavanaugh expressed thanks to the jury later for taking time to consider a “very difficult case.” The panel listened to “graphic” testimony of sexual abuse, he noted, deliberating over two days.

“Clearly, they considered all the evidence,” said Cavanaugh.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the verdict,” said Smith, who added that his client was acquitted of the most serious charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

“The family is devastated even by this partial victory,” added Smith.

The jury deliberated the case for more than six hours over two days. On Friday it listened to the court reporter read back a portion of the testimony offered by a 16-year-old who had accused Thornton of forcing her to perform oral sex on him, which was the basis of the charge of gross sexual assault.

The crimes of which Thornton was accused were alleged to have taken place in Thornton’s home or on his property, dating to the mid-1990s, with the most recent offense in 2008.

The three accusers, now 16, 20 and 25 years old, testified against Thornton in a trial that began Monday, but he took the witness stand Wednesday to deny their allegations.

In returning its verdicts, the jury rejected the claims of the 16-year-old and a young woman who testified that Thornton had groped her while giving her a ride on a snowmobile. The six charges of unlawful sexual contact — any touching of the genitals, even when the victim is clothed — for which Thornton was found guilty were based on the accusations of one victim.

About 20 supporters of Thornton, mostly women and including some defense witnesses, were present in the courtroom when the verdicts were announced. Thornton exhibited little emotion, but Smith grasped his client by the arm.

To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/11/22/news/down-east/calais-man-convicted-of-six-child-sex-assault-crimes-acquitted-of-two-others/ printed on July 24, 2014