The Appellate Group

State v. Thornock

State v. Thornock, 2020 UT App 138 (Christiansen Forster, J.)


Thornock and an accomplice held up a Super 8 Motel one night using stolen materials from a local Walmart. In an interview, Thornock told police he doesn’t “steal, I kill.” Thornock’s ex-wife testified at trial that Thornock had stolen materials from the Walmart before the burglary occurred and had acted suspiciously at that time. She had previously refused to testify against him. Thornock was found guilty, and he now appeals under various theories. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The district court did not err in instructing the jury that evidence that somebody purchased materials used during a burglary is insufficient to convict a person of burglary. Counsel for Thornock invited the error when he actively participated in crafting the instruction and he cannot now claim that the instruction was insufficient.
  • The district court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the statement “I don’t steal, I kill.” It was relevant because Thornock denied that he stole anything. And it was admissible and not unfairly prejudicial because the court also admitted Thornock’s explanation of what he meant when he said he “killed.”
  • The district court did not err when it denied Thornock’s motion for directed verdict, because Ex-wife’s testimony was not inherently improbable under Robbins-Prater. Merely because Ex-wife admitted she lied in her first interview and, therefore, made inconsistent statements in her second interview does not make her testimony inherently improbable. Neither did her ire for Thornock. That goes to credibility, not improbability.
  • Thornock’s collateral estoppel argument is inadequately briefed, as he failed to analyze the trial court’s decision within the plain error framework.

Read the full court opinion