26-year-old Yvonne Layne was found murdered in her Alliance, Ohio home on April 1st, 1999. She was discovered by her mother, who had arrived to take 6-year-old Preston to afternoon kindergarten. Tawnia Layne ran to a neighbor’s and asked her to call 911.
Numerous police officers, neighbors and family members soon crowded the crime scene. The chief of police responded with a date. No one wore shoe coverings or gloves to protect evidence at the scene, and just stepped over the body when needing to cross the room. To remove the children from the house they brought a blanket from the victim’s 3rd floor bedroom and covered her body, handed the children over her to other officers, then returned the blanket to her bed.
The 2nd floor crime scene, accessible only by a flight of stairs, was covered in blood. The victim’s throat had been cut while she stood facing her sliding glass balcony doors. She was then assisted, by her killer into the living room, where they dropped her face-down on the floor. The murder weapon was wiped off on a pillow on the couch, and bloody transfer from the killer was transferred to the sheet covering the couch. Someone stepped on the victim’s back, leaving a bloody footwear impression. There were several bloody footwear impressions throughout the room, which were recovered by cutting the wooden floor around the prints with a circular saw.
The stairs were not processed. No useable fingerprints were recovered. No DNA was collected.
The time of death established by the coroner was “sometime after 7”. He couldn’t remember if he’d done a sexual assault kit and didn’t know if the victim was cut right to left or left to right. No body temperature was recorded. A bruise on the thigh and a blow to the head are mentioned but not explained.
Many suspect names were given to police, including one of their fellow police officers who was harassing the victim, but they were not investigated. The only person they were interested in was David Thorne. David Thorne and Yvonne Layne dated briefly in late 1995 and early 1996. During this time, Yvonne became pregnant. David wasn’t aware of the pregnancy or the resulting child until he was notified by the Child Support Enforcement Agency in April, 1998. He appeared for paternity testing and met his son and reconnected with Yvonne. David began visiting with Brandon and paying Yvonne support before DNA results were finalized. They worked out a mutually agreeable visitation schedule. Nearly a year later, she was murdered.
Detectives went from the crime scene to David’s grandparent’s house that night to interview him, telling his family he was their #1 suspect. David was not at home, but he went to the police station the following morning. Before he arrived, his grandfather contacted an attorney who stopped the interview until David could seek representation. They interviewed his friends and family. Because David had an alibi and they were determined to make this crime his, they needed a co-conspirator. They pressured three of his friends to falsely confess until they found one who was emotionally susceptible to intimidation.
In July of 1999, police arrested David Thorne for complicity to aggravated murder. They had arrested an 18-year-old acquaintance of David’s earlier that day and convinced him that David was ‘in the next room’ implicating him in a murder he knew he didn’t commit. David was not there and hadn’t spoken to police since the initial aborted interview.
According to the police summary, Joseph Wilkes sat “quiet and stunned”. They challenged the emotionally-challenged man to ‘be a man’, ‘stand up for yourself’ and implicate David Thorne. And he did. He read a confession from a script prepared by officials and falsely implicate David and himself.
Detectives showed Joe crime scene photos and threatened him with the death penalty. They offered him a deal. Testify against David Thorne and he’d save his own life. Joe signed a plea deal and did not go to trial.
David’s family mortgaged their home and paid $100,000.00 for “the best criminal defense attorney in the county”. Jeffrey Haupt hired no experts and called only one witness. He smelled of alcohol throughout the trial. He would lose his driver’s license in February, the month after the sentencing, for DUI.
Joe Wilkes gave two police statements and testified at trial. A big problem for the prosecution was that Joe could not remember what he was told to say and got even the most basic details of the actual crime wrong. He didn’t even know which room the crime occurred in. But the jury was convinced that he wouldn’t confess to a crime he didn’t commit and willingly serve prison time if he didn’t commit the murder. They believed he must have been on drugs.
Joe testified that he bought a pocket knife referred to as the ‘murder weapon’ at Kmart the night of the murder, and saw his friend Rick Webb at the store while doing so. Defense witness Rick Webb testified that he did see Joe buying a pocket knife. At Walmart, six weeks after the murder. He had a receipt to verify the date. The judge laughingly told the attorneys at sidebar within David’s hearing that Joe ‘must have bought THAT knife to murder someone else’.
Joe testified that David paid him $300 to commit murder. David gave Joe $300 four months before the murder to buy an old car that David then fixed up for him so Joe would have transportation. Joe had a habit of roller blading to David’s house and asking for rides to work. This car would solve both problems. Joe then paid the $300 back to David.
The prosecution called two witnesses, a man who knew Joe from high school and his girlfriend, to bolster Joe’s testimony. They said they saw Joe the night of the murder at 8:00 pm. Despite not recognizing the man and not knowing the woman, both testified that Joe showed them the pocket knife and said he was in town to “do a job”. The woman said a guy hired him. The man said he was doing it for his girlfriend. They said Joe didn’t mention what the job was, they just ‘knew’. The man is a career criminal who was arrested two days after David and Joe and held in jail until he testified for the prosecution at David’s trial.
Joe Wilkes was called the State’s star witness. He answered “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”, or “I don’t recall” 138 times while testifying. Joe stated on the stand, …..the detectives “told me what to say and how I did it and was showing me pictures. They came to me. They were the ones that stated to me.”
David was convicted on January 25, 2000. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In July, 2001, Joseph Wilkes signed an affidavit recanting his confession and testified at David’s 2003 post-conviction hearing that nothing he said at David’s trial was true. He stated that the detectives told him that “all that was needed to convict me of this crime was a statement made against me….and that I would be put to death…..that if I would testify against David Thorne, that I would be spared the death penalty…..I was willing to make this deal to save my own life.” He told his minister that they said they were going to ‘light him up like the 4th of July in the electric chair and he was too young to die’.
David’s trial attorney, Jeffrey Haupt, died in January, 2009 from ‘Acute Alcohol Intoxication’ and ‘Hypothermia’, with a blood alcohol level of .27. He had walked home from a bar and was too disorientated to locate his door. He was found dead in his backyard.
All of David Thorne’s newly discovered evidence, including Joe’s recantation, was rejected by the trial judge who also presided over the post-conviction hearing. All appeals, local, state and federal have been rejected. David Thorne has been wrongly convicted and behind bars for 20 years.
He is innocent.