19 year old Jacksonville cold case closed;daughter identified her dad
Daughter's quest to find dad closes 19-year-old Jacksonville cold case
He once loved somebody named Cindy.
Investigators knew that much about the homeless victim when convicting three men of his February 1992 murder.
The trio went to prison for the attack beneath a Baldwin railroad overpass, did their time, and came home.
But what investigators never knew until this week was the name of the victim with the tattoo of a heart and the name Cindy on his right arm.
Nearly 19 years after his fatal beating on Feb. 5, 1992, they finally closed the case Wednesday.
After a years-long quest to find her father, authorities confirmed for a 34-year-old Texas woman that the man in a sketch she found on the Internet was her father. Then they told Heather Conlin how her father died at 42.
His name had been Luther Thornton. Conlin's mother had been his wife. Her name was Cindy.
"His last words to my mother were 'You won't see me for a very, very long time,'" Conlin said Wednesday.
That was in 1976, when Conlin was 3 months old. Mother and daughter never saw the man again. Thornton's wife divorced him two years later.
But Conlin said as she grew up, the urge to find her father also grew. At age 16, she met her father's mother, who said Thornton disappeared and lost touch with their side of the family after a falling out in 1985.
Thornton's daughter said her father suffered from mental illness and had a habit of going missing for long stretches of time. For a while, he worked a sanitation job. He joined the Army, but was discharged after a few months because he couldn't meet medical standards. He met Conlin's mother when he came into the restaurant where she was a waitress.
In 1973, the two married in Maricopa, Calif. But their relationship was on the rocks by the time Conlin's mother was pregnant with her.
That was all Conlin knew of her father until she stumbled across a John Doe sketch on www.doenetwork.org late last year. She instantly knew her father's face. The information investigators included on the website about his tattoo convinced her it was him. That website led her to another called www.fluiddb.com, which referred her to Florida authorities.
Conlin told investigators about a 1970 Texas burglary arrest record she found for her father. Authorities were able to match fingerprints from Texas to ones from Jacksonville in 1992.
"I'm really in shock so I'm not really angry about it yet," Conlin said of her father's murder. "I'm very sorry it ended this way."
She is not the only one.
In January, investigators at the Medical Examiner's Office in Jacksonville called on a forensic artist to compose two new sketches for the unidentified victim's file.
While studying old crime scene photos, forensic investigator Betsy Moore noticed a pair of bloody eyeglasses under the man's clothing. Besides releasing a sketch of the man's tattoo, she thought someone might recognize his face with eyeglasses.
Moore believed the tiniest of tips could lead to the man's identity. Maybe he even uttered a word or two during his attack, she suggested.
That turned out to be another dead end. On Jan. 20, one of the victim's killers said in a Times-Union interview that the man never said anything that night.
Sonny Tubman was someone who didn't need a sketch to remember the face of the man whose life he helped end. But the 36-year-old released felon said from his family's home in Baldwin that there was no conversation before the attack. Authorities said he and two other teenage friends had planned to rob the victim, before they beat him to death with a log and a stick.
"It's unfortunate that someone's life was taken," Tubman said "... I had a lot of time to think about this."
First facing a possible life sentence, Tubman got out of prison on appeal, after eight years. He said he's reformed, but his conspirators haven't fared well. Tubman said one abuses drugs, and the other adopted the lifestyle of the man they murdered.
"One of them actually lives under an overpass in Baldwin," he said.
Tubman said he works in a prison ministry on top of his full-time job at a sporting goods store. He also said he uses the Spanish he learned in prison every day.
He learned the language because he heard that a lot of transients spoke it. He thought that if he ever went free, he would try to help people like the man he killed. He never imagined there was a chance he'd be able to do anything for the victim's family. He knew the chances of identifying the victim were slim.
"I can't make up for what I did to the guy because he's gone," Tubman said. "I'm sure he's got family out there somewhere."
On Wednesday, Tubman learned that the man did.
"I never expected that to happen," Tubman said Wednesday evening. "I mean 'I'm sorry' won't do any good. I wish I could take back what was done."
He said at first that he didn't know if he could face Luther Thornton's daughter. Then he decided that if she was willing, he had to.
"I don't even know what I would say to her but I would at least want to talk to her," Tubman said. "I'm willing to go where she is. ... I feel like I should do something."
But on a day when Thornton's daughter learned how he died, she said she didn't want to talk to one of his killers. She said she was sure her father's death haunted Tubman.
"I know he's done his time. That means a lot to me," Conlin said.
Maybe with more time, she said, she might find it comforting to talk with someone who shared some of her father's last conscious moments.
Even if that person had meant him harm. Even if that person hadn't known her father's name.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2...#ixzz1Cyc6SpLb
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