Robert Sydrious Thornton, 25, was found guilty of Murder on December 7th by an Etowah County jury in a case arising from the March 14, 2015 shooting death of 17 year old Anthony Terome Hale, Jr. At his sentencing hearing on January 10th, Thornton faces a minimum sentence of 20 years due to the firearm enhancement, and a maximum sentence of 99 years or life imprisonment.
Thornton’s arrest followed an investigation by the Gadsden Police Department of a shooting incident that occurred after a teen party at the Status Lounge, which was located in the 700 block of Broad Street. According to testimony presented at the trial of the case, a fight involving numerous attendees at the party led to the organizers expelling virtually all of the attendees and the premature termination of the event. Thornton, an Anniston resident, attended the party with a small group of other teenagers from Anniston, and became involved in an argument with a young man from Gadsden as they crossed into the parking lot located on the north side of Broad Street. According to witnesses interviewed at the time, some of whom testified at trial, Thornton pulled a pistol from his waistband and fired multiple shots into the crowd of of more than 100 young people who were gathered in or passing through the parking lot at the time. It was undisputed that the victim Anthony Hale was not involved in any of the altercations, but was struck in the back of the head as he desperately attempted to leave the area. At least one witness testified that the Defendant was firing a 9 mm pistol with an extended magazine, and shell casings recovered from the ground in the area established that at least 14 rounds were fired from the same weapon.
The trial of the case was delayed for an extensive period of time due to crowded dockets, as well as the suspension of jury trials in recent years due to the COVID pandemic. The case was also delayed by the Defendant’s subsequent arrest and prosecution in a Madison County case in which he was charged with Felony Murder and Robbery 1st Degree. His codefendant in the Etowah County case, Hill, was shot and killed by the homeowner during a home invasion robbery in Huntsville. Thornton was eventually convicted of Robbery 1st Degree in connection with that case and served prison time during the pendency of the Etowah County case.
Etowah County District Attorney Jody Willoughby commended Gadsden Police Department investigators, patrol officers and crime scene technicians for their dedicated efforts in the investigation and prosecution of the case. Retired Investigator Clark Hopper was the lead investigator on the case. Willoughby expressed his profound appreciation for the jurors’ service in an emotional and difficult case.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid, who prosecuted the case along with Deputy District Attorney Brynn Crain, also expressed their appreciation for the verdict.
“We want to thank the jury and all involved in the investigation of this case.”
Reid said. “Perhaps the family of Anthony Hale, a fine young man with a promising future, will now be able to achieve a measure of peace and closure as they try to heal. Anthony was a completely innocent victim whose life was stolen from him in a senseless, random act of violence. It is also tragic that this young Defendant made catastrophic choices that will dramatically alter the course of his life and the lives of his loved ones.”
Reid commended the jurors for their ability to evaluate the testimony of the witnesses, analyze and weigh the forensic and crime scene evidence, and apply the complex principles of law to reach their verdict in the case. Reid said that it was reassuring to see this group of Etowah County jurors resolve the legal and factual issues in this case without confusion or distractions. The case was especially challenging due to the delays that impeded the trial of the case, and the resulting reluctance of some witnesses to testify. Many of the witnesses have since moved to other parts of the country and could not be located at all. Some witnesses who were associates of the Defendant were reluctant to testify against him, and attempted to change their original statements against Thornton to shift the blame to the deceased Hill.
“There were issues involving circumstantial evidence, the doctrine of transferred intent, witness credibility and memory loss due to the lapse of time since the shooting, and reckless versus intentional murder.” Reid said. “These jurors had no problem at all determining the true facts. I tell jurors in virtually every case that I am always impressed with their collective wisdom and powers of discernment. It is actually very humbling.”
Sentencing is scheduled for January 10, 2021 at 1:30 p.m.