5 charges filed against alleged burglar

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

More charges may be filed after DNA results return

Official charges have been filed against an Exeter man for allegedly committing a string of commercial burglaries across Barry County, including businesses in Monett, Wheaton, Cassville and Exeter.

Tommy Thornton, 43, of Exeter, has been charged in two separate cases for burglaries at the Mo-Ark Livestock Auction in Exeter and the Sunrise Restaurant in Monett. For the Livestock Auction incident, Thornton is being charged with second-degree burglary, a class C felony, and second-degree property damage, a class B misdemeanor. For the Sunrise Restaurant incident, he is being charged with second-degree burglary, a class C felony, stealing, a class A misdemeanor, and second-degree property damage, a class B misdemeanor. Thornton is being held in the Barry County jail on a $40,000 bond.

According to a probable cause statement filed by Detective Doug Henry, Gary Brown, with the Mo-Ark Livestock Auction, reported a burglary between 3:15 a.m. and 3:45 a.m. on April 21. Brown told Henry when he came in later that morning, there was no electricity to the building, and the glass door between the cafe and the auction ring had been broken. He then went to the nearby utility pole and saw the breaker had been turned off.

After turning the power back on, he reviewed the security footage and saw a man detectives believe to be Thornton. The footage, which was turned over to the Sheriff's Office, showed a white male wearing a Carhartt-type jacket, gloves, a hoodie over his head, a T-shirt, jeans and hiking shoes. After jumping over the counter, the man removed the hoodie and his face was revealed to the camera, according to Henry's report. The man did not enter the cafe portion of the building, but did break one of the window panes.

According to Henry, still images of the man were placed on the Sheriff's Office's Facebook page for public view in hopes someone would help identify the subject. He said several messages from residents claimed it was Thornton in the photos. Thornton was also allegedly wearing the same shoes as shown in the video when he was arrested.

According to a probable cause statement filed by Detective Robert Evenson, between 2:27 a.m. and 2:40 a.m. on April 3, Thornton allegedly broke out two windows at the Sunrise Restaurant in Monett, entering and stealing between $250 and $500 in cash.

Security video allegedly captured Thornton during the incident. Evenson said in his statement that Thornton is also on parole for residential and commercial burglaries in Texas and Missouri.

Mick Epperly, Barry County sheriff, said Thornton was arrested following a traffic stop by Exeter Police Chief Morgan Struble.

"We had been discussing [Thornton] as our possible target, and Morgan called and said he had stopped him for some other offense, so we asked to bring him in for a 24-hour hold and the investigators did a follow-up interview and believed they had enough to file the probable cause statements," Epperly said.

There are also other burglaries, mostly in the Cassville area, in which Epperly believes Thornton had a hand. Charges on the additional cases are delayed, as the Sheriff's Office has submitted DNA and fingerprint evidence for crime lab analysis.

"We had some evidence sent to the lab, and that can take a while to get back because of the back-up log, sometimes five or six months," Epperly said. "But, it may come back quicker since we have a suspect in custody."

Other Cassville businesses suffering burglaries recently include Cassville Hardware, Papa Vape's and Burchfield Tax Service. In Washburn, Benny's Auto Repair and Country Cooking were struck. Attempted burglary reports were also filed by Geraldi's in Cassville and Trinity Presbyterian Church in Shell Knob.

The Sheriff's Office worked jointly with the Cassville, Washburn and Exeter Police Departments during the course of the investigation.

Thornton has a history with similar crimes. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree burglary, stealing and forgery in separate cases. He has also pleaded guilty to a second-degree burglary charges in 2004, 2007 and 2010, as well as a forgery charge in 2004 and a theft of a firearm charge in 2010.

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