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Killer, Wife Die in Mystery Jail Shooting

July 10, 1997|From Associated Press

FLORENCE, Ariz. — In what may have been a botched escape attempt, a woman married to a death-row inmate opened fire through a prison fence Wednesday as her husband worked in a vegetable garden.

In the hail of gunfire, the inmate was killed and guards fatally shot the woman.

It was not immediately known whether Floyd Bennett Thornton Jr., 36, was killed by shots fired by his wife or guards. Officials had initially said Thornton was killed by his wife, Rebecca Lynn Thornton, 38.

"We are looking at this as a possible escape attempt," said Camilla Strongin, spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department.

Rebecca Thornton lived across the street from the prison and had married Thornton in January while he was on death row, officials said.

Shortly before 8 a.m., Rebecca Thornton pulled up to the prison's chain-link fence, opened a door and began firing a rifle, Strongin said. She then switched to a handgun and walked closer to the fence.

Floyd Thornton approached the fence and prison guards shot him with bean bags to knock him down, Strongin said.

Prison guards then shot and killed Rebecca Thornton.

The couple had exchanged some words, but officials refused to provide details.

Floyd Thornton was sentenced to die for the 1993 slaying of 74-year-old Dale Duke, who was shot in front of his wife as they returned to their home. Thornton had escaped from the Cochise County Jail while awaiting trial for a 1991 slaying.

Duke's family won a $2.1-million judgment against Cochise County for allowing Floyd Thornton to escape.

The Duke family's lawyer, Richard Grand, said Wednesday that Floyd Thornton's death puts an end to the case.

"Mr. Duke is dead. The man who killed Mr. Duke is dead," Grand said. "From a legal point of view, that closes everything."

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