Imprisonment, arson charges filed in Howard Township incident

Published 9:44 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

CASSOPOLIS — Daniel Thornton behaved erratically as he was arraigned by video on charges stemming from an alleged attempt to set fire to a Niles residence in which himself, his girlfriend, an adult woman and five young children were inside.

The 39-year-old man, who had been living at 2678 Huntly Road in Howard Township for six months, hid his face with his hands, making visible on his arms numerous tattoos, some of which the prosecutor said are gang related.

Daniel Thornton

Daniel Thornton

Thornton mumbled much of his responses and seemed confused at some of the procedural questions asked by Cass County Judge Stacey Rentfrow at Wednesday’s arraignment hearing in Fourth District Court in Cassopolis.

Assistant Prosecutor Tiffiny Vohwinkle said the alleged incident began late Tuesday night when Thornton became mad at his girlfriend, who was in the home on Huntly Road along with a female friend and the friend’s five young children.

Thornton attempted to trap the two women in a bedroom by nailing the door shut, she said.

“Luckily, [his girlfriend] was able to get a foot out to stop him from completing that act,” Vohwinkle said.

Thornton then allegedly grabbed a knife and began threatening to kill his girlfriend and everyone in the home if they tried to leave or call the police.

At one point, Vohwinkle said, Thornton cut his girlfriend’s hand with the knife and began strangling her.

Vohwinkle said one of the victims, a 12-year-old boy, led himself and the other children to safety by climbing out a window and running to a nearby farm.

“This 12-year-old boy was threatened by the defendant with a knife and thought he was going to kill him,” the prosecutor said.

At some point, Thornton attempted to start several fires inside and around the residence while the two female adults were still inside, including on the front porch, in the kitchen and near drapery.

“They [detectives] also located small sticks of some kind that were shoved into electric sockets, apparently trying to start a fire as well,” Vohwinkle said.

Firefighters were dispatched to the residence after a passerby reported seeing a fire on the front porch.

Thornton allegedly told the firefighters to leave and police arrived soon after, prompting the suspect to flee. The victims were taken to safety.

Vohwinkle said Thornton was apprehended nearby after a struggle with officers.

Thornton was charged with seven felony counts, including second-degree arson, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

He is also facing charges of unlawful imprisonment, assault by strangulation, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, third degree arson and domestic violence.

Judge Rentfrow said Thornton has an extensive criminal history, including a most recent conviction of assault with a dangerous weapon in Berrien County in 2010.

Vohwinkle said he has six prior felony convictions.

Rentfrow set Thornton’s bond at $150,000 cash or surety.

He is scheduled to be in court March 10.