Justin Thurber Sentenced to Death in 2007 Kansas Murder

Started by tpgisgay, February 03, 2009, 09:53:54 PM

previous topic - next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Go Down


February 03, 2009, 09:53:54 PM Last Edit: March 20, 2009, 08:48:20 PM by Jeff1857
Jodi Sanderholm, 19, was a college student and a member of the dance team at a small community college in a small Kansas town. She disappeared on January 5th, 2007. She had just left her dance practice which was located behind the Subway restaurant and called her mom telling her she was not going to meet her for lunch, and was going to go home instead. Sanderholms drive home usually took about 6 minutes, she had left the practice at 11:50. Police would later learn that at 12:08 a classmate would see Jodi driving her car with "a big man" inside of it. At about 6 p.m. that evening a man by the name of Justin Thurber called his father saying that he needed a ride, he was on the outskirts of town at the wildlife area/lake. By 7pm Justin had changed out of his wet clothes and was on his way to Subway to pick up his last paycheck, he had been fired the previous week. By this time Jodis' parents have notified the police of their missing daughter, and they were questioning her friends. One name was mentioned multiple times, Justin Thurber.

Justin was known as a "groupie" of the dance squad and infact had been seen cruising the parking lot of the building where the practices were held often, even on the day Jodi disappeared. When police questioned Justin 2 days later he told them he had been hanging out with his friends on that Friday. Police would later say his friends had not seen him all day. This was just the latest in a string of strange incidents involving Justin. On January 3rd, two days before the disappearance the manager at Subway had arrived at 6:30 am to do truck inventory. But she was not alone. Justin was there as well, in coveralls and a stocking cap. He asked the manager if he could have a ride, his car had broken down. She said that she could not do it because of inventory, and hurriedly entered the business making sure to lock the door behind her. About 10 minutes later she saw Justin again. He drove through the Subway parking lot in his car. The next morning the same manager asked for a police escort to work. When she arrived at 7 am she discovered that the lock had been disabled, and had to use the front door to enter the building. The next day Jodi would be murdered.

Meanwhile the search for Jodi continued. It did not take long. On the morning of January 9th her car was discovered at the bottom of a lake outside of Arkansas City.
She was not inside. Using items taken from the car once it was pulled out of the water, tracking dogs quickly located her nude body under a pile of branches. She had been raped, then strangled in a manner reminiscent of BTK, a local serial killer who confessed to 9 murders. This person had strangled Jodi to the point of suffocation, then would loosen the rope to allow her to regain consciousness. But Jodi made sure her attacker would not get away. Under the middle fingernail on her right hand there was DNA. There was also footprints left by her sandals as well as her attackers. There was hair on the drivers seat of her car that did not belong to her, and nobody ever drove Jodis' car.

On January 11th, police arrested Thurber on an unrelated charge. He had falsely identified himself as a "bounty hunter working for the police" in order to gain access to a residents house on the premise that he was trying to locate a wanted person. After Thurber had left, the occupant contacted the police, who then arrested Thurber.

Details after this get sketchy, some say he gave a partial confession, some say he gave a full confession. In the 2 years this has taken to come to trial he has also spent 3 months in a KDOC mental facility to make sure he was fit to stand trial.
Kansas only has 9 people on death row, so it is pretty rare to have a DP trial here. Hopefully he will get what is coming to him, and will not sit in prison for 20 years before Kansas gets the balls to execute him.


Great background of the case Rob!!! Hopefully he will be on the road to final justice.


Jodi Sanderholm suffered a brutal beating and strangulation in the final moments of her life, her autopsy showed.

Jaime Oeberst, the Sedgwick County coroner who examined Sanderholm's body two years ago, said she could tell by bruises and other injuries that the 19-year-old didn't die quickly.

Oeberst used more than two dozen photographs to explain her examination of Sanderholm's body to jurors Tuesday in the capital murder trial of Justin Thurber.

The strangulation

If a conviction occurs in a capital murder trial, jurors may be asked to weigh whether the state has proven that the crime rises to the level of a death penalty offense. Kansas law states that one of the factors they'll have to consider is whether the killing was done in an "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner."

A forensic pathologist, Oeberst diagrammed intricate details of what looked to the untrained eye like one massive bruise along the neck, running along the collarbone.

But Oeberst pointed to wide crimson lines across the upper part of the neck. The reason it looked like one bruise is because the patterns changed, crisscrossing the neck.

"There would have had to been some movement of the hand, or some repositioning, in order to cause that," the doctor said.

"How would the body react to being strangled, then being released?" prosecutor Chris Smith asked.

Sanderholm would have instinctively gasped for air, Oeberst said.

Oeberst said strangulation occurs when blood is cut off from the carotid artery in the neck.

"That's the artery in your neck, where you feel your pulse," Oeberst said.

The blood must be cut off from the brain continuously for three to five minutes to cause death.

The release, the hand repositioning and the gasps for breath would have prolonged death, Oeberst said.

Oeberst also noted the vertebral artery in the neck, which runs behind the carotid artery, had been injured.

"During a blow to the head, as it snaps back, it can tear this artery," she said.

The blow to the head alone could have been fatal, Oeberst said, but she determined that Sanderholm died from strangulation first.

Oeberst also pointed out numerous bruises on Sanderholm's arms, legs and torso.

"Based on your observations in this case it was fair to say Jodi was beat up pretty bad?" asked Smith, the Cowley County attorney.

"Yes," Oeberst answered.

Sanderholm also had been raped and sodomized with sticks, medical experts testified.

Diana Schunn, a nurse specializing in sexual assault examinations, said evidence of bleeding and bruising to the genitalia indicated Sanderholm was still alive when the rape occurred.

Sticks, leaves and other debris filled body cavities, the autopsy showed.

Sanderholm's body had been discovered in a pile of brush at the Kaw Wildlife Area on Jan. 9, 2007 -- four days after her family reported her missing.

Earlier in the trial, members of the Sanderholm family had left the courtroom when some crime-scene evidence was presented. On Tuesday, however, they stayed for the duration of the medical experts' testimony.

DNA evidence

Jurors also heard Tuesday that DNA evidence linked Thurber to Sanderholm.

The weekend after Sanderholm disappeared, Thurber told police he'd never been in the missing college student's car.

But after Sanderholm's black Dodge was pulled out of the Cowley State Fishing Lake, investigators searching for trace evidence used tape to pull several hairs off the driver's seat.

Out of that batch, Kevin Winer, an analyst for the Kansas City crime lab, isolated a single hair. Winer had authorities obtain a sample of Thurber's hair after his arrest. Most didn't match, but Winer testified he was able to compare the hair found in Sanderholm's car with one taken from Thurber's right arm.

While hair comparison isn't as exact as other forensic sciences, Winer said the two hairs had enough similar characteristics that he suggested further testing.

Prosecutors sent the hair samples to Mitotyping Technologies, a lab in State College, Pa.

Terry Melton, president of Mitotyping, said she was able to exclude the hair as coming from anyone in the Sanderholm family. But she could match the hair to Thurber's family.

Thurber's family had a rare DNA characteristic, Melton said. Only 0.15 percent of the population could be expected to have the same profile as the one found on the hair in Sanderholm's car.

During the autopsy, Oeberst also had saved trace evidence for future testing.

While looking over the battered body, Oeberst noticed one of Sanderholm's artificial fingernails on her right hand was bent and torn.

Oeberst took clippings of all the fingernails and sealed them in evidence bags.

Those clippings would be sent to Dallas for further DNA testing.

The results of those tests are expected to be presented in court today.



WINFIELD - Brian Sanderholm said Thursday's verdict convicting the man who killed his daughter brought an end to an ordeal that lasted more than two years. Next week, when a jury will decide whether Justin Thurber lives or dies for his crimes, isn't as important to Jodi Sanderholm's family.

"To us, it doesn't matter one bit," Brian Sanderholm said of the upcoming penalty phase in the capital murder trial. "The whole thing for us is this isn't going to happen to anyone else because of him."

Thurber, 25, will face either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. After deliberating more than two hours Wednesday and about an hour Thursday, a jury convicted him of capital murder.

Jurors found Thurber guilty of killing Sanderholm while committing the crimes of attempted rape and aggravated criminal sodomy.

Thurber also stood convicted of aggravated kidnapping in the disappearance of the 19-year-old college student on Jan. 5, 2007.

Defense case for life

Beginning Monday morning, Thurber's defense team, which sat quietly during the past two weeks of testimony, is expected to present its case for life in prison.

In the sentencing phases of capital murder trials, prosecutors present reasons defined by law that make capital murder worse than other killings and deserving of a death sentence.

These are called aggravating factors.

Prosecutor Vic Braden said the state will present one reason: that Jodi Sanderholm died a cruel death during a heinous crime.

"You can't bring back the child," Braden said after the verdict. "But you can bring justice."

Braden said the state will argue for a death sentence based on the evidence it already presented to win a conviction.

The defense will be allowed to present reasons why the jury should spare Thurber's life.

These are called mitigating factors and may be as simple as mercy.

Lawyers say these aren't meant to excuse the crime, but to explain why it may justify a life sentence.

End of a long wait

For the Sanderholm family, Thursday's verdict ended a long wait.

"We got justice and Jodi can rest," said her mother, Cindy Sanderholm.

A loud sigh came from the seats where the Sanderholm family and friends sat in the courtroom as the verdict was read at about 10:15 a.m. Thursday.

Part of the sigh was relief, Cindy Sanderholm said. Part of it was nerves.

"It's hard to breathe," she said.

But the family will breathe easy soon, her oldest daughter, Jennifer, said.

Jodi Sanderholm's death shook the community of about 12,000 people in Arkansas City and people across Cowley County.

The county has never had a capital murder trial before, county prosecutor Chris Smith said outside the courthouse.

"While justice has been done, our community still suffers," Smith said.

"Two of my children went to school with Jodi Sanderholm," Arkansas City Police Chief Sean Wallace added.

"It affected us all deeply," he said.

Wallace said his officers found solace in the trial.

The chief told of his communications officer, who took radio and phone calls as police searched for Sanderholm.

"She said when she sat through the trial, it gave her lots of closure," Wallace said. "She said she felt like it helped heal the hurt, because she could see the results of all our hard work.

"We did make a dent in evil," Wallace said.

Adding to the shock was that one of their own -- Justin Thurber -- could have committed such a violent crime.

Sanderholm was badly beaten and sexually assaulted, police learned when they found her body in the woods four days after she disappeared.

During the trial, prosecutors showed photos of Sanderholm's ravaged, nude body, as an illustration of her violent death.

Brian Sanderholm looked at Thurber while the jury viewed the photos this week.

"I was thinking, 'I can't look at the pictures,' so all I could do was look at him and watch his reaction," Brian Sanderholm said Thursday. "I didn't want those pictures in my mind. I didn't want that to be my last image of Jodi."



A jury recommends the death penalty for a Kansas man convicted of killing a 19-year-old college student two years ago.

Jurors had deliberated for about four hours over two days before returning their decision Tuesday in the case of 25-year-old Justin Thurber. The same jury had convicted the Arkansas City man last week of capital murder in the January 2007 death of Jodi Sanderholm.

Both the families of Sanderholm and Thurber were crying as the verdict was read.

The Cowley College student was abducted, raped and strangled. Her battered body was found several days after her disappearance in a wildlife area near Arkansas City.

Thurber's parents and sister had asked the jury Monday to spare his life.



This is the only sentence which fits for such a crime.

Im so sorry for the loss of the sanderholm family and I ask myself (as in most of these cases) why someone kills for a rape....

Im not sure if theres a hell, but I believe in executed murderers.


A judge has sentenced a Kansas man to death for killing a college student more than two years ago.

Justin Thurber didn't speak as Cowley County District Judge Jim Pringle announced the sentence Friday. A jury recommended the death penalty last month after finding Thurber guilty of capital murder in the January 2007 death of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm.

The Cowley College student was abducted, raped and strangled, her body found several days after her disappearance in a wildlife area near Arkansas City, where Thurber lives.

Pringle also sentenced Thurber to 176 months for aggravated kidnapping.



Thurber receives death penalty

After emotional statements from Jodi Sanderholm's family members who have grieved her death over the past 2 years, Cowley County District Court Judge Jim Pringle sentenced Justin Thurber to death for the capital murder of Jodi Sanderholm.

Pringle sentenced the defendant at 11:30 a.m. after considering a last-minute defense motion for consideration of Thurber's being mentally handicapped.

The judge also sentenced Thurber to 176 months in prison for aggravated kidnapping. That sentence is to run concurrently while he awaits imposition of the death penalty.

Cindy Sanderholm said after the sentencing that she and her family were relieved that the legal process leading to Thurber's sentencing is over.

Cowley County Attorney Chris Smith, a prosecuting attorney in the case, said it was the intent of the prosecution to finish the necessary paperwork for Thurber to be transferred to the State Department of Corrections by the end of today. Thurber will go to the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Cindy Sanderholm was asked how it felt to know that Thurber might be out of Cowley County by the end of the day.

"I hated living 15 minutes from him," she responded. "He's just gone now. That's what matters."

Judge Pringle ruled earlier today that the evidence presented in Thurber's trial was sufficient for the jury's unanimous guilty verdict. Thurber was convicted of capital murder in February.

The jury's recommendation that Thurber be sentenced to death also was supported by evidence presented in the penalty phase, Pringle said.

Sentencing was delayed when the judge called for a recess at 10 a.m. The defense had asked for certified copies of Thurber's prior criminal records.

Cowley County Attorney Chris Smith, a prosecutor in the case, said at the recess that the defense apparently is challenging Thurber's categorization as a criminal who had 2 or more prior misdemeanor convictions.

The recess was called so that the conviction records could be reviewed by lawyers, Judge Pringle said.

Before defense attorney Tim Frieden asked for the records - which he said that the prosecution had not provided - Pringle ruled on several defense motions and on the trial jury's verdict.

Pringle said that Jodi Sanderholm had suffered serious physical and mental anguish at the hands of Thurber, and that the evidence supported the jury's finding for the death penalty.

Enough evidence was presented for the jury to conclude that the aggravating circumstance - that the crime was committed in a heinous, atrocious and cruel manner - was not outweighed by any mitigating circumstance, the judge said.

At the start of today's hearing, Judge Pringle addressed a new motion by the defense, filed Thursday. Defense attorney Frieden argued that Thurber was mentally retarded and therefore not subject to the death penalty.

Responding to the judge's question about evidence, Frieden said he had no evidence beyond what was presented in trial.

Assistant Attorney General Vic Braden, lead prosecutor in the case, responded that one of the defense's own witnesses had stated he didn't believe Thurber was retarded. He was a high school graduate and completed 64 credits at Cowley College.

Pringle denied the motion and another by the defense that Thurber should be granted a new trial and be acquitted.

(source: Winfield Courier)


He ain't dead yet..
"..the death of any public servant or innocent is a tragedy... the death of a murderer is a mere statistic..."  -63Wildcat


Go Up