Accused Killer Joseph James Thornton No-show At Pretrial Conference
SCRANTON — The final pretrial conference for accused killer Joseph James Thornton went on without him Thursday in Lackawanna County Court. The defendant would not leave his cell at the county jail.
At the outset of the hearing to dispose of a series of motions and other matters in advance of Thornton’s trial for the 2014 homicide of Stephanie Tyminski, Judge James Gibbons said the court was notified the defendant had refused to be transported to the courthouse for the proceeding.
Gibbons told prosecution and defense attorneys he decided not to have Thornton forcibly removed to avoid possible injuries to the sheriff’s deputies who would transport him and potential new charges against the defendant.
“So he is not here at my direction,” the judge said.
The episode served as a possible preview of what may lie ahead when Thornton, 30, who has often disrupted prior court appearances with loud outbursts and other erratic behavior, goes on trial Jan. 7.
Court-appointed defense attorney Christopher Osborne told Gibbons each of the past five times he has gone to the prison to see Thornton — most recently on Wednesday — the defendant has refused to come out of his cell.
District Attorney Mark Powell told the judge prosecutors believe Thornton’s behavior is manipulative and said at some point the court will be required to get him into the courtroom.
Gibbons, who ruled in August that Thornton is competent to stand trial, said he is satisfied the defendant can assist with his defense as long as he continues taking his anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications.
The court plans to have Thornton present Jan. 7 for the start of jury selection, the judge said, but will not hesitate to remove him if he misbehaves.
Thornton is accused of killing Tyminski, 29, on Dec. 10, 2014, inside her apartment at Valley View Terrace in South Scranton, where they were neighbors. Investigators say he beat and strangled Tyminski after she rejected his romantic advances.
Assistant District Attorney Ruth Lenahan said prosecutors have agreed to limit the charges against Thornton at trial to first- and third-degree murder for Tyminski’s death, along with separate but related witness intimidation charges.
Three other sets of charges, all stemming from incidents since Thornton’s arrest, will be handled at another time, she said.
Gibbons told Osborne that prosecutors will be permitted to introduce both crime scene and autopsy photos into evidence but suggested the two sides try to determine in advance which ones would be mutually acceptable to avoid repeated objections once the trial starts.
“If you can agree to some, agree,” he said.
Lenahan said the prosecution has reduced its original collection of more than 800 crime scene photos to 45 and whittled the number of autopsy photos down from 673 to a small group of “maybe 12 to 15.”
She confirmed the prosecution was dropping a request to transport jurors to Valley View Terrace to view the crime scene.
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