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Reno Police Nearly Shot Thornton, Jury Told : Trial: Officer says the man accused of killing a Westlake nurse lunged for a weapon during a showdown in a casino.

November 18, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police officers Thursday described the dramatic arrest of accused Thousand Oaks murderer Mark Scott Thornton inside a crowded Reno casino last year, saying they came close to shooting the armed defendant as stunned gamblers looked on.

When officers closed in on Thornton at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino on Sept. 19, 1993, the suspect was carrying a revolver and at first refused to surrender, Reno Police Officer Jim Duncan testified.

Thornton decided to lay his gun on a nearby counter, but suddenly lunged for it--even though Duncan and several other officers had their guns trained on him, the officer testified.

"I told him if he touched it, he was going to be shot," Duncan told the Ventura County jury deciding whether Thornton killed Westlake nurse Kellie O'Sullivan five days before the casino showdown.

Deputy Public Defender Howard J. Asher told the jury in opening statements that Thornton, 20, was considering provoking the officers into killing him at the time of his arrest and that he only surrendered after deciding he did not want to die.

Now, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if Thornton is convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the 33-year-old nurse's death.

Prosecutors say Thornton shot O'Sullivan once in the chest and twice in the back in the Santa Monica Mountains. He is accused of stealing the woman's truck and using it to kidnap his former girlfriend.

Thornton and the girl, Stephanie Campbell, wound up five days later at the casino in Reno about midnight Sept. 19, 1993, after traveling around Northern California.

Campbell, who has testified that Thornton vowed to kill her if she tried to escape from him, said she was able to walk away as he played video games.

Circus Circus security guard Jeff Howell said he spotted Campbell standing near the midway. Campbell appeared nervous, so he approached her, Howell said. Campbell told the guard she had been kidnaped.

"She said that I had to hide her," Howell testified.

Reno police were called for backup, and security officials closed in on Thornton about 30 minutes later as he stood at a house phone on the ground floor of the casino, Howell said.

Nearby, gamblers were playing the slot machines, and Howell said he tried to steer as many of them as he could from danger after seeing Thornton point his .38-caliber revolver at the approaching officers.

That is when Duncan issued his first warning to Thornton, Howell said.

"He said twice, 'Drop it or you're dead, man! Drop it or you're dead!' " Howell testified.

Duncan testified that he recalled Thornton pointing the pistol in the air before dropping it and then trying, suddenly, to pick it back up. After he was handcuffed, Thornton tried to break free from the officers several times.

The defense has neither admitted nor denied the charge of murder, but has acknowledged that Thornton was driving O'Sullivan's truck when he took Campbell at gunpoint from her Thousand Oaks home hours after the nurse's slaying.

Police said Thornton told them he found the truck with the keys in it, and that Campbell was free to leave Thornton any time during their five days together.

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