House of Mirrors and Hidden Truths: The Wrongful Conviction of David Thorne

Posted on November 5, 2014


“Over time, hidden truths morph in the dark soil of deceit into something much worse.” ― Patti Callahan Henry, Between the Tides

David Thorne is an innocent man who is serving a life sentence without parole for allegedly hiring an acquaintance, Joe Wilkes, to kill the mother of his son, Yvonne Layne. In January 2000, after five days of testimony and three hours of deliberation, the jury found Thorne guilty of aggravated murder.

David ThorneHis case is a disturbing one. It’s a textbook example of sloppy crime scene processing, tunnel vision, police corruption, unreliable and contradictory witnesses, suppressed evidence, unqualified experts and incompetent defense lawyering. In fact, forensic scientist and criminal profiler Brent E. Turvey, M.S., uses it to teach investigators and lawyers how not to handle a murder case.

As witnessed in the new A & E series, Dead Again, re-investigating Thorne’s case is tantamount to walking through a precariously constructed house of mirrors. The episode (Behind Closed Doors), which premiered on October 2, 2014, follows a team of detectives who re-examine Layne’s murder. Without prior knowledge of the crime or verdict, the trio begins with a reconstructed crime scene and work the case, interviewing witnesses, forensic specialists and other key players.

Despite Turvey’s clear determination that the crime scene does not corroborate Wilkes’ confession, the team falls victim to tunnel vision as they fail to fully investigate other leads and ignore contradictory evidence. Many states (including Ohio) require independent evidence to corroborate a confession (called the “corpus delecti rule”). Historically, this rule has provided a safety net for false confessions, but in recent decades it has fallen into disfavour.

In his paper, “In Defense of the Corpus Delicti Rule”, David A. Moran argues that “the rule well serves the desirable purpose of precluding conviction in the rare case where the defendant’s confession is so unreliable that there is little or no evidence other than the confession that a crime has occurred at all.” 

There is no physical evidence that directly or indirectly implicates Thorne in this crime (or even Wilkes for that matter). Much of the evidence collected at the crime scene was logged but not tested for DNA, and in some cases, mysteriously lost. Other evidence does not link Wilkes or Thorne to the crime scene.

The only evidence connecting Thorne to the murder is the testimony of Joe Wilkes, Rose Mohr and Chris Campbell. However, as Turvey outlines in Conclusion #1 of his initial report, “their statements are inherently unreliable.” Many lies and inconsistencies are apparent in their testimony. Click here to read more. Campbell was arrested on a drug charge a few days after his July police interview and held in jail for 6 months – until after he testified at Thorne’s trial. Coincidence?

House of Mirrors

While researching Thorne’s case, I stumbled across a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s silent film, The Circus. A penniless and hungry Tramp (Chaplin) is mistaken for a pickpocket and chased by both the police and the real crook (who stashes a stolen wallet and watch inside the Tramp’s pocket to avoid detection).

Despite a complicated maze of dead-ends, false clues and wrong turns, the Tramp manages to foil both the crook and the police; celebrating his freedom with a defiant little hop as he walks off into the horizon. In contrast,  David Thorne has lost his freedom, ensnared by a maze of deceptions, hidden truths and legal incompetency.

“Now, you must remember: the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.” – Enter the Dragon

Other contemporary films have also featured mirrored hallways, sometimes in full-blown battles, sometimes in chase scenes, but always as a metaphor for deception. Sometimes an investigation or courtroom proceeding operates like a house of mirrors. We hear about ‘verdicts’ (from the Latin word, veritas, meaning the truth) or a witness who promises to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.”

The first illusion we must break is that the results of an investigation or verdict are an absolute Truth. This assertion may seem surprising, especially for those of us who operate under the illusion of honest police, hard-working lawyers and righteous judges. By exploring the case of David Thorne, we can begin to shatter the mirrors of deception surrounding his wrongful conviction.

Case Overview

Sometime between the evening of March 31st and noon on April 1st, 1999, Yvonne Layne was brutally murdered inside her Alliance, Ohio home. The victim’s mother, Twania Layne, arrived at her daughter’s house on April 1 to take one of her grandchildren to school. She found her daughter laying in a pool of blood with a severely slashed throat.

As stated on the blog radio program, April Fools – The David Thorne Case by The Other Side of Justice“this was no April Fool’s joke for the five children Yvonne left behind.” Thorne was dad to one of her five children. Shockingly, during the crime, two of the victim’s children were locked in a second floor bedroom, one was in a crib on the third floor and the other was found wandering around the home (clean and unharmed).

Clues left behind at the vicious and oddly staged murder scene indicate that it was a personal attack. While there were bloody footprints at the crime scene, there was little other physical evidence. There was also a series of strange behaviours by the Alliance police force and a police lineup pointing to a potential cover-up. However, despite the preponderance of evidence and numerous statements pointing to his actual innocence, Thorne remains locked behind bars.

“Perhaps the single-most important factor in the disposition of this case has been the chronic failure of professionals to actually read through and examine the case material to develop a genuine understanding of the case facts.” — Brent Turvey

As outlined in Turvey’s report, Crime Reconstruction Report: Sharp Force Homicide (and this news clip), the immediate investigation of the crime scene was “belligerently inadequate” with the evidence grossly mishandled:

  • The lead detective arrived at the scene with his date who also entered the crime scene.
  • Investigators did not bag the victim’s hands and bare feet.
  • The body of the victim was moved around without guarding against contamination and covered with a blood-stained blanket taken from the bedroom.
  • No DNA testing was performed on any of the evidence that included cigarette butts, a wad of chewed gum, a men’s pinky ring, a blood stained blanket and pillow, open condom wrappers and two fingerprints.
  • The only outside “experts” consulted were a teenage boy who identified the footprints and a psychic. Detectives drove to Cleveland and met with a psychic. They took a bag with the victim’s bloody clothes, which she was allowed to remove and handle.
  • The bathroom was not processed, despite an empty open condom wrapper and a very bloody scene.
  • A bleach bottle, a pair of rubber gloves and the cap from a second bleach bottle were on the kitchen counter, suggesting a clean-up.

Tunnel Vision

The Alliance Police had no DNA, no eyewitness, no motive; and despite a valid lead by a neighbour on a potential suspect and an airtight alibi by Thorne, the Alliance Police Department immediately set their sights on David. Police decided that Thorne murdered Layne because he didn’t want to pay child support. However, by all accounts, they had a good relationship, and not only did have a good job and money in the bank, but was thrilled to discover his son.

The only evidence in play was the coerced confession of a mentally challenged “hit man” who could not give any facts of the murder and gave contradictory statements during his interviews. Wilkes took a plea deal in order to receive life in prison instead of the death penalty and in turn was the star witness against Thorne at his trial. In July, 2001 Joe Wilkes recanted his statement.

In an excerpt taken from The Wrongful Conviction of David Thorne website:

“Wilkes was a high school dropout who had just turned 18 at the time of the murder. His I.Q. was lower than normal and in grade school he was evaluated as having a severe behavioral handicap and was labeled emotionally disturbed.  Wilkes spent most of his childhood bouncing between foster homes and his parents’ home.  He was abused physically, emotionally and sexually as a child. Wilkes often did drugs, particularly acid and cocaine.”

After police threatened him with the death penalty, Wilkes told his interrogators that Thorne hired him for $300 to commit the murder. However, he was unable to provide accurate details of the crime scene. According to Turvey, Wilkes got every detail of the crime wrong, except the type of weapon used.

In  Justice Bruce A. MacFarlane’s paper, Wrongful Convictions: The Effect of Tunnel Vision and Predisposing Circumstances in the Criminal Justice System, he cites a quote from a 2006 scholarly analysis of tunnel vision written by Keith Findley and Michael Scott, Professors of Law in Wisconsin:

“Tunnel vision is a natural human tendency that has particularly pernicious effects in the criminal justice system. By tunnel vision, we mean that “compendium of common heuristics and logical fallacies”, to which we are all susceptible, that lead actors in the criminal justice system to “focus on a suspect, select and filter the evidence that will “build a case” for conviction, while ignoring or suppressing evidence that points away from guilt.” Confessions are key to convicting real criminals. However, false confessions (or accusations) frequently play a major role in the conviction of innocent people. Experiments show that confessions are highly persuasive to juries and potential witnesses – even if they know it was a coerced confession. Additionally, lab and other experts when informed of a confession, see what they expect to see — that is, evidence of guilt.

According to the Stop Wrongful Conviction blog, there is strong evidence to “support a theory that police set out to frame a co-conspirator for this crime and that they selected Joe Wilkes.” 

As the site points out, the police could not pin the murder on Thorne because he had an airtight alibi. Thus, in order to solve the murder, police created a “murder-for-hire” narrative and built a case based on police informants, coercion of witnesses, planted evidence and a threat to Wilkes. This very detailed blog outlines key facts supporting Thorne’s innocence and a coerced confession:

  • Wilkes was in custody for 20 short minutes whereby he confessed to the murder. This 20 minute interview was not recorded.
  • Police told Wilkes that Thorne was “in the next room” implicating him to save his own life. This was a lie.
  • Witnesses for the prosecution later admitted that they altered their stories to implicate Thorne and bolster Wilkes’ confession.
  • At Thorne’s trail, Wilkes answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” 138 times during his testimony.
  • The clothing and knife used to implicate Wilkes did not contain any blood.

MirrorHallPolice deception raises important ethical and legal questions. Confessions are so powerful that they can halt police investigations, trigger prosecutions, convict defendants and inspire resistance to exoneration despite DNA or other exculpatory evidence. In his book, Police Interrogation and American Justice, Richard A. Leo draws on extensive research to argue that “confessions are inherently suspect and that coercive interrogation has led to false confessions and  wrongful convictions.”

Hidden Truths

The majority of us would never believe that we would be falsely accused and convicted of a murder we did not commit. After all, police and prosecutors are honest people who act on good faith and would never frame an innocent person. Right?

The reality is that sometimes investigators and prosecutors do lie and honest people are intimidated and threatened into confessing, lying or hiding the truth to protect themselves (or others). In fact, within the criminal justice system, deception exists on a continuum, ranging from little white lies to egregious misconduct that should warrant dismissal or prosecution (although it rarely does).

In the U.S., more than 2,000 people falsely convicted of serious crimes (from murder to child sex offenses) have been exonerated. Of those, 873 cases are detailed in the new National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Wrongful convictions happen for a variety of reasons including tunnel vision, perjury by witnesses, false confessions, eyewitness misidentification, fabricated crimes, misconduct by law enforcement or prosecutors or false or misleading forensic evidence. In the case of David Thorne, his conviction potentially includes at least five of the causes listed in the graph outlined above.

A Police Line-up Wrapped in a Mystery Covered in an Enigmatic Fingerprint

There are many odd circumstances surrounding Layne’s murder including Wilkes’ confession and the evidence used (or fabricated?) to implicate both Wilkes and Thorne. The biggest issue here is that the crime scene does not match with Wilkes’ description of the murder.

From the Coroner’s Report:

“A gaping incised wound of the neck extending from left to right and measuring 8 inches long and 4 inches deep. On the left side of the wound the weapon cut so deeply it nicked the 5th cervical vertebrae; the trachea is partially severed; there is extensive hemorrhage in the soft tissue; [and] there is left internal and external corroded artery are severed and jugular vein. Bump on her head and thigh. It looked like she was whacked over the head.”

Wilkes confessed to slicing Layne’s neck while she was seated on the couch next to him. He said she then stood up, walked over to the sliding glass patio doors, turned toward him (saying “why?”) and collapsed to the floor. Given the description of her injuries above, it is highly unlikely that she could have even stood up or even spoken. Nor does the blood splatter on or around the couch indicate that the injury was inflicted there.

In Turvey’s Crime Reconstruction Report, he concludes that Layne received her injury while standing near the sliding glass door, facing it at least partially, and was attacked from behind. He bases his conclusion on the distinctive arterial spurt patterns in a particular sequence and height across various surfaces. He then concludes that an “empty space, or a void pattern” indicates “the precise location where the offender and victim were standing” when the attack occurred. The blood spatter patterns also show that the perpetrator would have been covered in blood because the “void” is an indicator that the offender’s body was blocking “the transfer of gushing blood from the victim onto the wall and floor.”

The evidence used to implicate Wilkes doesn’t line up with this analysis of the crime scene. The pants that police allegedly “discovered” had no blood on them.  The (planted) knife found in a storm grate had no blood on it and was only 3 1/2 inches in length.  Not a single witness saw a bloody man walking the streets of the neighbourhood.

Bloody Shoe Prints and the Nike Pants

Crime Scene Photos 095Bloody shoe prints were found throughout the house. They likely belonged to the offender because it is clear from crime scene photos that Layne was barefoot. In interviews with the police, Mohr and Campbell stated that Wilkes was wearing brand new Nike shoes, swishy pants and a jacket.

Rather conveniently, his blood-free pants were recovered in a wooded area more than 20 miles from the murder scene; and rather than hire an expert to analyze the shoe prints, the Alliance police took the prints to a Dick’s Sporting Goods store where a teenager identified them as a Nike cross trainers. Yet, despite their apparent match, Wilkes’ shoes were not even recovered and no traces of blood were found on his pants. How is it possible that any of these items link him to the murder?

The Knife

The day after the discovery of Layne’s body, a knife (not Wilkes’) was found approximately five blocks from her home in the street. The knife matched the set of knives at the house and was the same-size knife missing from the set. Although there was no blood on the knife, investigators were aware that the crime scene (and possibly the knife?) had been scrubbed clean using bleach.

There was a thumbprint on the blade of the knife from someone holding it in their left hand. The print does not belong to Thorne or Wilkes. Why did the police exclude this evidence? Why didn’t they test for traces of bleach? Who does the fingerprint belong to? A blood swipe on a pillow at the crime scene matched the size and shape of the knife. At trial, the coroner for Stark County, P.S.S Sreenivasa Murthy, testified that the kitchen knife found in the street could have caused the wound.

Yet, later in the investigation, the police decided this couldn’t be the knife, and instead got Wilkes to “lead them” to a knife that he purchased and claims to have used to murder Layne. It is important to note that the police told Wilkes during his “interview” that they knew he had purchased a knife at K-Mart. Once in their possession, did the police conspire to plant the knife in a nearby grate?

“So, we have a knife that matches the knife that is missing from the home of the deceased with a finger print on it, bloody shoe prints throughout the house, cigarette butts on the scene and open condom wrappers in the bedroom, none of which tie the crime to David Thorne or Joseph Wilkes.  These items are probably the most important pieces of evidence at the scene and yet, none of the evidence can be connected to David or Joe.” — From The Wrongful Conviction of David Thorne 

Witness George Hale and the Police Lineup

George Hale lived in Yvonne Layne’s neighborhood.  The morning of April 1, 1999, he saw a man walk out of Layne’s home carrying a garbage bag. Later that day, Hale noticed police outside of Layne’s home. Out of curiosity he approached an officer and was informed there had been a murder. Hale then described the man he had seen leaving the property earlier that morning. (Click to read police report).

unnamedLater, Hale was asked to view two separate photo line ups to see if he could  identify the person leaving the house.  The first line up (on April 1st) contained a photo of a police officer along with other individuals. Hale identified the officer. He was told this was impossible and the line up photo was never revealed. After Thorne was photographed on April 2nd, Hale was invited to view a second line up. This one included Thorne but not Wilkes. He didn’t pick out Thorne. Strangely, after Wilkes was arrested, Hale was never asked to view another line up or assist any further in the investigation.

Thorne’s defense team was never made aware that Hale identified a police officer in the first line up. Clearly exculpatory, this hidden evidence would have been a potent piece of information for the jury to hear, especially since Layne had previously had problems with a few of the Alliance police officers. Hale never testified at trial. Imagine how different the outcome of Thorne’s trial would be had the defense presented Hale’s testimony or Turvey’s crime scene analysis.

An Inadequate Defense

In Turvey’s report on Ohio v. David Thorne, Case #1999CRA00750, he offers scathing evidence to support his conclusions that David Thorne’s defense was extremely inadequate, prejudicial and negligent. In summary:

  • The defense in this case failed to have the evidence related to the criminal investigation examined by an independent crime investigation / police policy and procedures expert. Subsequently, potentially exculpatory evidence and circumstances have gone unviewed and unexamined by the defense.
  • The defense failed to have the physical evidence and circumstances related the crime scene examined by independent forensic experts. Subsequently, potentially exculpatory evidence and circumstances have gone unviewed and unexamined by the defense. Furthermore, damaging testimony by unqualified experts was allowed without objection.
  • The defense in this case engaged in a pattern of behavior that was negligent and prejudicial to his client. This amounts to nothing short of incompetence.

Thorne did not have a court appointed counsel. His grandfather called their family attorney to take David’s case. He was not death penalty certified and would only do take the case if they also hired Jeffrey Haupt as co-counsel. The pair charged David’s family $100,000.00 to represent him.

Throughout the trial, Haupt would often get lost, talk to himself or begin rambling while speaking. He was chastised several times by the judge for this behaviour. Haupt also smelled of alcohol each day of the trial. As Turvey states, “this in combination with his DUI and loss of driver’s license suggests that he was mentally impaired when acting as defense counsel in this case.” 

Charges were filed against Jeffrey Haupt for his poor representation soon after the trial. He was brought before the Bar Association, who refused to reprimand him.  At Thorne’s Post-Conviction hearing in 2003, Haupt testified against Thorne. Years later, he was found dead in his back yard. The Stark County Coroner ruled that Haupt, age 54, had died from hypothermia due to or as a consequence of acute alcohol intoxication.

When Justice is a Game

As we all know, wrongful convictions are difficult to overturn. So much is invested in winning that prosecutors and police will do whatever it takes to get a conviction and then refuse to give up their victory — even in the face of DNA or other strong evidence.

The majority of cases in the United States result in a plea bargain entered into by a guilty party (mostly). When cases do go to trial, the results can be less trustworthy — if not devastating for an innocent person. When the system gets it wrong, innocents are locked inside the system, struggling to be freed from its deceptive walls.

“How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand ?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.” — Lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song Hurricane

Thorne has been incarcerated now for 14 years. In this case, the game of twisting the truth reached new heights of absurdity, contorting a murder investigation into a house of mirrors where objective reality has turned into a pile of fetid dust.

For more insight into the wrongful of David Thorne please visit the sites listed below:

Crime Reconstruction Report in David Thorne Case by Brent E. Turvey

 Inconsistencies and Key Facts in the David Thorne Case

Investigative report on the wrongful conviction of David Thorne and Joe Wilkes in Alliance, Ohio

Help free a man falsely accused and wrongfully convicted

The Other Side of Justice — April fools, The David Thorne Case

 Injustice Anywhere – The David Thorne Case: Did Police Frame an Innocent Man?

On Your Side Investigation – An Investigative Report on Injustice in Alliance, Ohio

I would love to read your comments — please feel free to share your opinions or thoughts in the box below.  Thank you!