SIERRA VISTA — Attorneys handling the case of a U.S. Border Patrol agent accused of molesting at least three minors are working to reach a plea agreement, a Cochise County prosecutor said Monday.
The suspect, 49-year-old Dana Ray Thornhill of Sierra Vista, is currently in jail after a superior court judge ruled last month that Thornhill should be held without bail.
The decision by Cochise County Superior Judge Timothy Dickerson came after Assistant County Attorney Lori Zucco described Thornhill’s actions as “horrific and systemic.”
In an email Monday after another hearing in front of Dickerson, Zucco said Thornhill’s trial “was vacated and the matter was referred to Judge (Terry) Bannon for a settlement conference.”
“Both parties believe we can have a non-trial (plea agreement) disposition,” Zucco said.
Arrested in mid-April, Thornhill was charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of sexual assault of a minor. Additional charges were lodged against him later, including five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, Sierra Vista Detective Thomas Ransford previously told the Herald/Review. The additional charges are the “internet aspect of the investigation,” Ransford said.
Thornhill knew investigators were coming for him when he hid in a church April 9, officials said. He told his wife 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.
He entered the church at the 2500 block of North Calle Segundo about 9:30 a.m. with a cell phone and a handgun, and he communicated with the church’s pastor via cell phone, investigators previously testified.
When he finally emerged from the church in the early evening, he was pointing the weapon at his head, investigators said.
In Dickerson’s courtroom on April 15, Ransford testified that one of the victims in the case told him she had been abused by Thornhill with such regularity that the incidents were “too numerous to count.”
Aside from being a danger to children and the now-adult victims, Zucco also told Dickerson that Thornhill posed a danger to his wife and the community in general.
Investigators said Thornhill tried to persuade his wife to go into the church with him the morning of April 9; Zucco said she believes there would have been a murder-suicide if his wife had agreed. Zucco also said the wife was in danger because a similar scenario could play out if Thornhill was released on bail.
The prosecutor told Dickerson that Thornhill might also attempt suicide-by-cop.
Zucco also mentioned that the multiple charges listed on Thornhill’s indictment were enough to put him away in prison for life, and then some, if he is convicted.
Zucco said Monday that if an agreement is not reached between prosecutors and Thornhill’s attorney, the suspect will go to trial.