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Canton man faces 25 years minimum in prison for sexually assaulting girls

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CANTON — As a guilty verdict was read Thursday in St. Lawrence County Court, a seven woman, five man jury did not look at the man they say molested two young girls over a 10-year-period.

The jury stared at the judge and at the floor while the defendant, Richard W. Thornton, 37, Canton, began breaking down into tears with his hands covering his face. They deliberated for about four hours before returning with their verdict.

Thornton is accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl from summer 2008 to summer 201, and of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl from summer 2002 to summer 2009.

He was convicted of felony predatory sexual assault against a child, felony first- and second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child.

He faces a minimum of 25 years to life imprisonment when sentenced Aug. 13.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen immediately called the victim’s family after hearing the verdict. She said they were very pleased.

“This was an excellent example of victim’s courage,” Ms. Nissen said.

The verdict sends a message to the community that sexual assault victims should come forward, she said.

“I think that the victims’ testimony was crucial,” Ms. Nissen said.

Thornton’s attorney, Mary E. Rain, said her client’s decision not to testify did not affect the outcome.

“All he could say is ‘I didn’t do this,’ and he already did that by pleading not guilty,” she said.

Ms. Rain said neither Thornton nor his family were ready to hear the guilty verdict.

“He was definitely not prepared,” Ms. Rain said.

While jurors left the courthouse, they told Ms. Rain they the victims’ testimony was compelling and they believed them.

In her closing statements Wednesday, she focused on the differences in the victims’ testimony.

“Look at the inconsistent stories and the plethora of reasonable doubt,” Ms. Rain said. “They’re changing their story by years.”

Ms. Nissen sympathized with the victims because of their young ages.

“Maybe she didn’t remember every detail. That doesn’t mean she made it up,” Ms. Nissen said.

Ms. Rain said she plans on appealing the verdict.

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