A grueling weeklong trial ended Friday afternoon in 35th District Court as District Judge Steve Ellis sentenced Robert Thornburgh Jr., 45, to two stacked life sentences Friday for sexual assault of a child.
Speaking to a packed courtroom, Ellis delivered a stern and emotional lecture, not only to Thornburgh, but to "the system" that Ellis said had failed multiple teenage girls. CPS began looking into allegations against Thornburgh as early as 2006, and Brownwood police looked at CPS reports in 2007, 2008 and 2010, according to testimony. The district attorney's office did not receive cases against Thornburgh until 2011.
The two counts on which Thornburgh stood trial stemmed from a sexual relationship Thornburgh was alleged to have had throughout much of 2006 with his then-14-year-old girlfriend. Prosecutor Sam Moss was able to introduce testimony that Thornburgh also sexually assaulted three other teen girls at various times. Thornburgh, taking the stand twice, denied the allegations.
Thornburgh had maintained all of the girls were lying to help one of his two daughters in her effort to gain custody of her young son away from Thornburgh. The two were involved in a tug-of-war over the boy. The custody battle was resolved earlier and the boy is in foster care.
Thornburgh also denied other allegations including assaulting another inmate in the Brown County Jail, assaulting two men who were repossessing his vehicle and threatening the family of a CPS investigator.
"Your testimony is largely beyond belief," Ellis told Thornburgh as he prepared to pronounce the two life sentences.
Ellis referred to Thornburgh's testimony that he had treated his then-teenage girlfriend like his own daughters. "The problem is, you treated your own daughter like a sex slave," Ellis said, his voice shaking with emotion.
"In my opinion you have forfeited the right to be in civilized society."
Ellis noted the importance in society of the family unit, saying "your family unit was no family unit. You failed these children. The system failed these children … I'm not happy about that.
" … These agencies were left to pick up the pieces and they did a poor job until the end."
According to testimony, CPS began receiving calls from anonymous sources starting in 2006 that a teenage girl was being sexually assaulted by Thornburgh. Each time an investigator questioned the girl, she denied that she was being sexually assaulted, according to testimony. She was not the same girl as the then-high school freshman whose allegations led to this week's trial.
Brownwood police got involved in 2007 and 2008, then again in 2010, but no case was filed. By 2010, the girl who had denied she was being sexually assaulted had been placed in foster care, and it was there that she made an outcry and did not recant, according to testimony.
Then, a CPS supervisor who had started working in the Brownwood office in 2009 assigned a new investigator to the case. The investigator learned there were multiple potential victims and began finding them. That led to four criminal cases being filed in 2011 that alleged Thornburgh had sexually assaulted teen girls.
During the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, jurors heard from numerous witnesses, including three of the four victims. During punishment testimony Friday, the fourth victim testified before Ellis.
The young woman, now 19, married and living in Alabama, testified that she has undergone therapy and counseling to overcome problems stemming from Thornburgh's assault. Those problems have included feelings of worthlessness and the belief that what happened was her fault, the girl testified.
Thornburgh, testifying during Friday near the end of the punishment hearing, repeated his earlier assertion that he had befriended and tried to help the 14-year-old girl in 2006.
"If I ever get out again, I ain't gonna waste my time helping nobody," Thornburgh said Friday. "It's a whole mixed-up thing."
Thornburgh testified that events had been reported out of context and made to sound worse than they were. "What I'm accused of, I had not done," Thornburgh said.
As defense attorney Rudy Taylor began his closing argument following the punishment hearing, Taylor knew that his client — having already been convicted in this trial and in previous criminal cases — faced a minimum of 25 years in prison. Taylor asked Ellis to give Thornburgh a chance to learn from his mistakes and get out of prison before he dies.
Taylor argued that all of the victims had been impeached when he cross-examined them and had told inconsistent stories. The only person with a consistent story was Thornburgh, Taylor argued.
Moss argued against giving Thornburgh "any hope he'll ever get out" of prison. "When you hurt children you don't deserve the opportunity to ever see the light of day again," Moss said. Moss asked Ellis to assess two life sentences — one for each count on which Thornburgh was convicted — and to stack the sentences.
As Ellis pronounced the two life sentences, he said it is his hope that "you're going to be locked up until you pass into the next life. You are (your two daughters') father biologically but you are no father of theirs."
Ellis said the four victims "are not worthless individuals. They are people of value."
After the trial, District Attorney Micheal Murray said the two stacked life sentences mean Thornburgh must serve 60 years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.