RUBIDOUX: Family and friends speak in court about the girl who was murdered in 2001.
RIVERSIDE - Michelle Curran was 16 when she was kidnapped from her Las Vegas neighborhood in late March 2001.
Two weeks later, her nude body was discovered inside a horse trailer in Rubidoux. She had been tied up, sexually assaulted and shot in the head.
On Thursday, Michelle's family and friends reminded a packed courtroom that she was a girl with dreams. She was the niece who died before she got her driver's license, attended a prom or graduated from high school. Michelle was the would-be maid of honor at her lone sister's wedding.
Riverside judge PaulZellerbach listened to the statements, then sentenced the girl's killers to death.
Earlier this year, separate juries convicted a Rialto couple, Michael Forrest Thornton, 50, a one-time hair salon owner, and Janeen Marie Snyder, 26, of murder. They also determined the couple was eligible for the death penalty for kidnapping and torture.
In May 2006, the juries recommended Thornton and Snyder be sentenced to die.
Zellerbach said that after reviewing the evidence and reading the transcripts of the almost six-months trial, he agreed.
The defendants held Michelle Curran captive during a 14-day period, gave her drugs, intimidated her with firearms and sexually exploited her, Zellerbach said.
The Curran assault marked one in what authorities believed to be a long string of attacks.
The judge mentioned other girls whom the couple had been suspected of stalking and assaulting, evidence that came out during the penalty phase of the trial.
Zellerbach said there was some validity to Snyder's defense attorneys' argument that their client was dominated by Thornton at a very young age.
"It is also clear to the court that Mr. Thornton was the leader, if one wants to characterize it as that, but that Miss Snyder was a willing and voluntary participant," Zellerbach said. "She was not merely a puppet or a pawn."
Zellerbach said that Thornton used Snyder as the lure or bait for young girls to participate in the sexual sadism that would follow. Curran's last moments were especially brutal. She was tied to rafters by both her hands and her feet and violated.
"It was Miss Snyder who ultimately approached Miss Curran in this very vulnerable position, put the gun to her forehead and pulled the trigger," Zellerbach said.
Before the sentencing, family members choked back tears as they read prepared statements or offered impromptu messages to the defendants. The judge warned a few people to direct the comments to him. Candy Curran, the victim's mother, said she had waited six years for this moment, but she struggled as she tried to speak. Her sentences were short, hindered by moments of crying.
Later, outside the courtroom, Curran said that Michelle's friends and relatives expressed her feelings better than she had herself. Curran squeezed a Dalmatian she has kept with her to honor the daughter who loved the breed so much.
An uncle, Richard Curran, told the judge, "I can't even look at these people. They disgust me." Then, to Thornton, Curran blurted: "You low-life scumbag."
His brother, Richard Curran, grieved for the niece who never got the opportunity to graduate from high school.
"You're looking downward," he told the defendants. "That's where they'll be going."
The case struck a nerve with both jury panels. Almost every juror returned to hear the judge's sentences, a fact Zellerbach touched on before his decisions.
Juror Suzanne Davis, of Temecula, said she wanted the closure.
She said the trial plucked her from her life into a life "that you want no part of." http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_D_torture08.34485d1.html