Friday, April 27, 2001 | 10:43 a.m.
A California couple were charged Thursday with the torture and slaying of a 16-year-old Las Vegas girl, a crime that prosecutors called "eligible for the death penalty."
Michael Thornton, 45, and Janeen Snyder, 21, both of Rialto, Calif., were charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances in the rape and torture slaying of Western High School student Michelle Curran, who was reported missing earlier this month.
"We believe the facts are sufficient to support that this murder occurred while she was being tortured and raped," said Michael Rushton, a deputy Riverside County (Calif.) district attorney. "Although a formal decision has not been reached, the special circumstances makes this case eligible for the death penalty."
Michelle Curran was found dead Sunday, shot in the head and hidden in a horse trailer on a ranch in Rubidoux, a rural area of Riverside County, said Sgt. Mark Lohman, a Riverside County Sheriff's Office spokesman.
Thornton and Snyder have been in the Riverside County jail since April 17 on burglary charges after a property owner came home and saw two people running from her land. Deputies arrested the pair on the property and found a large amount of blood in a stable's tack room, Lohman said.
Deputies knew a more serious crime than burglary occurred because of the blood, but no victim was found. Police also found Curran's identification inside the pair's GMC Suburban.
California authorities ran a computer check on Curran and found that she was listed as missing/runaway from Las Vegas. On Sunday, the property owner found Curran's body inside the horse trailer, Lohman said.
Curran was last seen April 4 walking to school and was reported missing to Metro Police the next day.
Riverside County and Metro Police are still trying to determine if Curran was a runaway or kidnapped and taken to California. Police don't know where Curran met Thornton and Snyder, but all three were seen in a Riverside County park campground.
"People saw them together and there wasn't anything that alerted them that there was a problem," Lohman said.
Candy Curran, the victim's mother, said her daughter wasn't a runaway. She didn't leave the house with money or clothing. Curran said she believes her daughter was snatched off the street.
"She didn't know who they were," she said. "She threw her ID in their truck because she knew what was going on. Do you think they would keep that in there?"
Metro Police don't have any indication at this point she was kidnapped, said Sgt. Dan McGrath of the missing persons unit.
"Can I say 100 percent she wasn't kidnapped? No." McGrath said. "At any point we determine a crime (kidnapping) was committed here, we will go forward with charges against these suspects."
Anyone with information in this case is asked to call Riverside County Sheriff's Office at (909) 341-8817 or Metro's missing persons unit at 229-2907 or Secret Witness at 385-5555.