July 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Death Row Inmate, Wife Die In Shootout During Possible Escape Attempt

Associated Press
 

In what may have been a botched escape attempt, a woman married to a death row inmate opened fire through a prison fence Wednesday as her husband worked in a vegetable garden.

In a hail of gunfire from the woman and guards, the inmate was killed and guards fatally shot the woman.

It was not immediately known was whether Floyd Bennett Thornton Jr., 36, was killed by shots fired by his wife or guards. Officials had initially said Thornton was killed by his wife, Rebecca Lynn Thornton, 38.

“We are looking at this as a possible escape attempt,” said Camilla Strongin, spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department.

Thornton lived across the street from the prison and had married Thornton in January while he was on death row, officials said.

Shortly before 8 a.m., Rebecca Thornton pulled up to the prison’s chain-link fence, opened a door and began firing a rifle, Strongin said. She then switched to a handgun and walked closer to the fence.

Thornton approached the fence and prison guards shot him with bean bags to knock him down, Strongin said. Guards then shot and killed Rebecca Thornton.

The couple had exchanged some words, but officials refused to provide details or characterize the exchange.

Fifteen other death row inmates were working in the vegetable garden at the time, overseen by four guards, officials said. None were injured.

Thornton was sentenced to die for the 1993 slaying of 74-year-old Dale Duke, who was shot in front of his wife as they returned to their home. Thornton had escaped from the Cochise County Jail while awaiting trial for a 1991 slaying.

Duke’s family won a $2.1 million judgment against Cochise County for allowing Thornton to escape.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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