Prosecution begins in slaying of Las Vegas teen

By Chelsea J. Carter The Associated Press
Thursday December 20, 2001

RIVERSIDE — A woman said she heard a gunshot on her ranch moments before spotting one of two suspects in the slaying of a 16-year-old Las Vegas girl, whose body was later found on the Southern California property, a detective testified Wednesday. 

Riverside County sheriff’s Detective David Scott Brown said during a preliminary hearing the woman identified 21-year-old Janeen Snyder as the person she saw on her Rubidoux ranch. 

Snyder and Michael Thornton, 45, both of Rialto, have been charged with torturing and killing Michelle Curran. 

Thornton and Snyder were initially charged with burglary for breaking into the woman’s home and a tack room. They were arrested while fleeing, Brown said. 

Authorities allegedly found a large amount of blood at the ranch and Curran’s identification in Thornton’s truck, but no body. 

“There were several theories and speculation” in the days before the body was discovered, Brown said at the hearing, which was scheduled to conclude Thursday. “Initially we believed there was a third outstanding suspect.” 

Brown said investigators visited the property at least four times before the body was discovered by the property owners in the compartment of a horse trailer. 

Deputy District Attorney Michael Rushton began laying out the case by asking Brown to trace eyewitness accounts of Turner and Thornton whereabouts on April 19, 2001, the day authorities believe Curran was killed. 

In the hour before Snyder was spotted on the Rubidoux property, the couple was seen with a dark-haired teen-age girl at a nearby park, Brown said. A park ranger who saw the three said they appeared to be under the influence of drugs, he said. 

The two were later spotted in a nearby neighborhood entering homes to try to elude authorities. 

“They said ’Don’t call the police,”’ Brown said. 

But Snyder’s attorney, Carl Johnson, questioned the eyewitness accounts. 

“They were asking for help?” he said. 

“Yes,” Brown said. 

“They made no direct threats?” Johnson said. 

“Verbal threats? No,” Brown said. 

Johnson also attacked the credibility of the crime scene at the Rubidoux ranch, suggesting it had been trampled by too many officers over too many days. 

“Is it safe to say there were 15 to 16 officers there?” he said. 

Brown said he did not know how many were at the ranch. Although he said in the subsequent days it ranged between two and 10 a day. 

Candy Curran, the teen’s mother, attended the hearing clutching a stuffed animal she said was one of the last gifts her daughter ever gave her. 

She said she would watch the entire hearing, which will determine whether Turner and Snyder stand trial. 

“I’m not prepared for it,” Curran said. “But I want to make sure these two get what they deserve.” 

Curran reported her daughter missing from her Las Vegas home April 5. Although authorities classified the case as a runaway, Curran’s mother has insisted her daughter was kidnapped and had no reason to run away.