Dana Thornhill

Dana Thornhill

SIERRA VISTA — A former U.S. Border Patrol agent who attempted escape from police by locking himself up in a church and whose crimes against children were described as “horrific” by a prosecutor pleaded guilty on Thursday to four counts of sexual abuse, which included luring a child to have sex with one of his adult friends.

Dana Ray Thornhill sat in Cochise County Superior Court, his head hung low, as his two victims sat just a few feet away after the guilty plea.

The 49-year-old pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of luring a minor for sexual conduct. The acts against the victims, who are both now adults, began when the children were at least 8 years old, court documents state.

After Cochise County Superior Judge Terry Bannon accepted Thornhill’s plea agreement, she told him he would serve prison time for the first two counts and probation for the last two. Thornhill will also register as a sex offender for life, Bannon said.

The judge informed Thornhill that the prison sentence would be served “day per day.”

That means Thornhill could face up to 40 years in prison. Each count calls for a sentence of 17 to 20 years and they must be served consecutively, the judge said.

Most of Thursday’s session was held privately because it was a settlement hearing designed to allow attorneys from both sides to reach an agreement in order to avoid trial. Bannon sat in on the negotiations, which lasted two and a half hours.

At 4:30 p.m., the parties emerged from a jury room and Thornhill’s plea agreement was announced in open court. The judge read off each count and Thornhill answered with “guilty.”

At a hearing before Cochise County Superior Judge Timothy Dickerson in mid-April, Assistant County Attorney Lori Zucco had said that the crimes committed against the victims were “horrific and systematic.”

The abuse included oral sex with the youngsters, and having one of the children engage in sex acts with an adult friend of Thornhill’s, court documents show.

One of the victims told Sierra Vista Police Detective Thomas Ransford that she had been abused by Thornhill with such regularity that the incidents were “too numerous to count.”

After the hearing, Thornhill stood up slowly and limped as a corrections officer led him away. He had a blue cast on his right foot, but his attorney Joshua Jones said he didn’t know what had happened to Thornhill.

Thornhill’s arrest in early April was anything but ordinary.

According to testimony that Ransford gave at Thornhill’s bail hearing, the defendant knew investigators were coming for him when he hid in a church April 9, officials said. Thornhill had told his wife that he would be going to jail for child pornography and that she would be taken care of because he has plenty of money saved, investigators said.

The morning of April 9, Thornhill entered the church at the 2500 block of North Calle Segundo near Whetstone and refused to come out for more than 10 hours, investigators said. Armed with a handgun and a cell phone, he communicated with the church pastor.

While that scene was unfolding at the church, the two victims were at the Sierra Vista Police Department giving detectives details of the abuse they had endured for years at the hands of Thornhill.

Zucco told Dickerson that Thornhill had tried to convince his wife to go to the church with him, but Zucco said if that had happened, there would have been a murder suicide.

She also said Thornhill had mentioned he would commit suicide by cop.

When he finally emerged from the church that evening, Thornhill was pointing the weapon at his head, investigators previously said.

Thornhill’s sentencing hearing will be scheduled in the next few days. He remains in custody at the Cochise County Jail.

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