Thurber Trial - Day 3: Parents Testify

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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Prosecutors in the Justin Thurber capital murder trial spent Wednesday outlining the last hour Jodi Sanderholm was seen alive, and what happened as her family and friends began to realize she was missing.

Jurors saw security video from the Cowley College campus the day of Jodi's death. She was seen arriving for dance practice at the school's auditorium. Following only seconds behind her was a light blue Cadillac, which prosecutors say belonged to Thurber.

At one point, the Cadillac parked on campus for 13 minutes. A man - believed to be Thurber - left the car, walked towards the auditorium, and then returned to leave moments before the end of dance practice.

Prosecutors say Thurber stalked members of the Cowley College Tigerette dance team, including Jodi. It's believed he then went to her house, where he waited for her to come home. Prosecutors believe Jodi was abducted as she checked the mail only feet from her front door.

Jodi's parents, Cindy and Brian Sanderholm, testified Wednesday morning. Cindy recalled the last time she saw Jodi alive, sobbing quietly as prosecutors showed jurors a photo of her daughter, taken only days before her death.

Cindy had come home from work that morning to replace a contact lense.

"She was on her bed petting her cat," Cindy told jurors. "I said I'll see you at lunch and waived goodbye and went back to work."

But Jodi wouldn't make it to lunch, or to any of her afternoon appointments.

When Jodi didn't return her mother's calls that afternoon, Cindy quickly became concerned.

She told her husband, Brian, who said he tried not too worry at first.

"I thought maybe she had gone off with friends and didn't tell us," Brian told jurors. "But that wasn't like Jodi."

At 6:00 that evening, both were convinced something was wrong. They called police, "and things just went crazy," said Brian.

Police officers quickly responded. By 7:00, authorities say everybody was looking for Jodi.

Her friends told police about seeing Justin Thurber around campus that morning. Police would soon identify him as a suspect.

Prosecutors also called Thurber's parents to the stand. Glenda Thurber told jurors she tried to call her son repeatedly during the afternoon of January 5, 2007, but could not reach him. Justin's sister, Alissa Thurber, also tried but to no avail.

Around 6:00 that evening, they say Justin called the house, asking for a ride. He said he was east of Ark City on highway 166, having left a group of friends after experiencing car trouble in the area.

Justin's father, Kevin Thurber, went to pick him up.

"He got in the car and said turn on the heat, it's cold," Kevin Thurber told jurors. It had been dreary that day, and temperatures were in the 40s.

Other witnesses took the stand Wednesday, telling jurors they saw Thurber walking near the Sanderholm's house in the weeks before Jodi's death. Others recalled seeing Jodi's car parked on the side of the road near the Kaw Wildlife Area, and later at the nearby lake where authorities would eventually find it submerged.

Prosecutors say they are moving faster than expected, in large part because defense attorneys are not questioning every witness.

Defense attorneys said in opening statements Monday they would not delay the trial, asking only that if jurors found Thurber guilty, they spare him from the death penalty.

Prosecutors say if the pace keeps up, they could rest their case before the end of next week.

On Thursday, prosecutors plan to show jurors how Thurber's alibi changed as the investigation unfolded. Assistant Attorney General Vic Braden said Monday Thurber changed his story to police several times.

Stay with KAKE News and for updates.

Below is a detailed description of Wednesday's courtroom proceedings.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 3:30pm

A former co-worker of Thurber's at Ark City's Subway says he came in the evening of the 5th to claim his final paycheck after 7:00. The co-worker says he was driving his light blue Cadillac. He had been fired a few days earlier. The co-worker says Thurber seemed calm, as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

A short time later, prosecutors show security video from inside the store. Thurber is seen wearing clothes different than that described by those who had seen him earlier in the day, and from what he was wearing when videotaped at a Casey's general store that morning.

This is the last evidence of the day. The judge dismisses the jury at 3:30. Court will resume Thursday morning at 9:00.


Wednesday, Feb 4 - 3:15pm

ACPD officer Eric Burr takes the stand. He joined Lt. Larson in the search for Sanderholm.

Another officer went to Thurber's home to check and see if his blue Cadillac was there. It was not.

Burr says he put the entire city's police force on alert to look for Jodi's car.

Burr also went to Sirloin Stockade in Ark City to speak with Jodi's friend, Lori Legleiter. After speaking with her, Burr says he also went to Justin Thurber's house. It was about 7:14 in the evening. Nobody was home. (Prosecutors believe this is the time Kevin Thurber was on Hwy 166 picking up his son).

Jim Holloway is next up. He is a Lt. with the ACPD. He went out to look for Justin Thurber's vehicle. He checked a trailer house east of town where Thurber used to live, but did not find anything. Later, Holloway says he went up to where the Sanderholms lived to assist in the investigation.

A woman takes the stand next. She says she spotted Thurber walking around and studying Jodi's home in the weeks before her murder.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 2:15pm

Charles Owens takes the stand. On the day Jodi Sanderholm vanished, Owens says he saw her car pull into the lake where authorities would later find it submerged. He says he didn't think anything of it until several days later when he saw the car on the news. KAKE TV was among the television stations at the lake as detectives pulled Jodi's sunken car from the waters and loaded it onto a flatbed truck.

Sara Smith takes the stand shortly after Owens. She was driving to Sedan on 166 the evening Jodi Sanderholm disappeared. She says she saw a man walking on the side of the road. She does not outright identify Thurber, but describes the man as a tall caucasion wearing a black jacket. She says this happened around 6:00 in the evening.

Jason Legleiter takes the stand a few minutes later. Jason is Lori Legleiter's older brother, and a member of the Ark City Police Department.

Legleiter and another officer checked the visitor logs at the Kaw Wildlife Area and the fishing lake where Sanderholm's car was found. No visitors were registered at the time it's alleged Thurber killed Sanderholm and sank her car.

KBI Agent David Falletti is back on the stand this afternoon. He goes through a series of cell phone records that show Thurber's family trying to reach him. Although he doesn't answer, Thurber's phone "pings" the nearby towers, which authorities use to trace his route to a region near the Kaw Wildlife Area and the lake.

Sgt. Luke Larson with the ACPD takes the stand a little later. Larson was the officer who first spoke with the Sanderholms following Jodi's disappearance.

After speaking with the Sanderholms, Larson says he immediately began searching for Jodi -- first checking the high school were she was expected that evening, and later speaking with several of Jodi's friends. Larson says he did not find any evidence in his search.

Larson says he went back to the Sanderholms for more information. He tried accessing Jodi's MySpace, and did a search in the garage to make sure absolutely nothing was overlooked.

After 7:00, Larson called in more officers to help with the search.

The judge calls for a 15 minute break.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 1:45pm

Court is back in session following lunch. Alissa Thurber, Justin's sister, takes the stand.

She, her mother, and her father will all have to testify for prosecutors. All three ask their faces not be shown on camera.

She says her brother drove a light blue older model Cadillac. Prosecutors contend it is the same as previously shown jurors in security video from the Cowley College campus.

The afternoon Jodi disappeared, Alissa says she tried calling her brother's cell phone multiple times. He never answered.

At 6:15, she says Justin called the house. It was the first time they'd heard from him since the morning. He was calling to ask somebody to pick him up because he was walking along the side of the road near the lake where Jodi's car was found.

Alissa says her dad went to get Justin.

Alissa is allowed to step down from the stand as her mother, Glenda Thurber, comes up.

She tells jurors her son was not at home most of the day when Jodi disappeared.

Glenda Thurber says she also tried to call her son a number of times during the afternoon of January 5, 2007. He never answered.

That evening, she says he called the house after 6:00, saying he was out east of town and needed a ride home. He said he had been with friends when their car got stuck. Prosecutors said in opening statements that Thurber's story would change over time as he talked to police.

Kevin Thurber takes the stand next. He is Justin's father.

He says after 6:00 in the evening on the day Jodi vanished, he went to get his son on Hwy 166 east of town. He thought his son had gotten stuck while traveling in a rural area east of town with some friends.

Kevin Thurber says he found his son wet and cold on the side of 166. When Kevin asked Justin if they needed to go get his other friends in the car, Justin told him "no," that they had walked a different direction to find their own help.

Kevin says when they got home, Justin immediately got a shower and changed clothes.

Kevin Thurber is allowed to leave the witness stand.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - Noon

MeLynda Schritter takes the stand next. She was riding in a car near the Kaw Wildlife Area the afternoon prosecutors say Justin Thurber killed Jodi Sanderholm.

Schritter says she saw a car matching Jodi's on Adobe road, heading away from the Kaw Wildlife Area. She says she saw Justin Thurber driving the car between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. She remembered him because of his distinctive facial features.

LaDona Peoples is the next witness. She was the driver of the car with MeLynda Schritter as her passenger. She verifies Schritter's testimony, saying she also saw the car.

She says she did not pay attention to who was inside because she was focussed on the road. She says the car was coming at her at a high rate of speed. She says they passed the car between 3:00 and 4:00 the afternoon of January 5th.

Several other witnesses testify, including a woman who says she saw Jodi's car parked along the side of the road near the Kaw Wildlife Area. She could not see inside because of the tinted windows.

Another witness, Michael Crowley, was wrongly identified as a suspect in Sanderholm's disappearance. He was pointed out as a man matching Thurber's description. However, he was living and working in Edmund, Oklahoma, at the time of the crime. DNA evidence was also taken to exclude him as a suspect.

The judge breaks for lunch. Court will resume at 1:30 this afternoon.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 11:20

Brian Sanderholm describes Jodi's car to jurors, a black Dodge 2-door coupe with tinted windows and a sunroof. It was a gift to her for getting straight-A's her senior year of high school.

He also gave her a cell phone to use in emergencies as a way of contacting them.

He says the day Jodi disappeared, his wife - Cindy - began to worry early in the afternoon because she couldn't get ahold of their daughter.

Brian says he didn't think much of it at first because she was an adult. He figured she may have gone with a friend and forgotten to call, though he says that was not like her.

The Sanderholms run a family business in Ark City. Around 4:00, he allowed Cindy to go home to wait for Jodi. When Brian arrived at 5:00, they still had not heard from her.

At 6:00 that night, they called the police. After that, Brian says, "things just started going crazy."

Cindy Sanderholm takes the stand immediately after her husband. She says Jodi was valedictorian of her high school class at Ark City High School.

Jodi's boyfriend was Colby Wilson. They had been together since middle-school. Colby had given Jodi a promise ring.

Cindy says she and Jodi got along wonderfully. They had a great mother-daughter relationship. Cindy says she and Brian also liked and approved of Colby, often going on "double-dates" together.

Cindy says Jodi's routine was to get up in the mornings, go to Tigerette practice at 10:00, go home and get a shower - or go to lunch with her parents - then come to work at the family's glass shop in Ark City.

On January 5, Jodi never showed up to work.

Cindy says Jodi was very health conscious. She would often have leotards or sweat pants on for dance practice.

For 2007, Jodi had decided her new favorite color was red. She and her mother had gone shopping for new clothes in that color.

Cindy says her daughter showered and washed her hair sometimes two times a day, and often pulled her hair back. She also liked to wear french-tip nails when the Tigerette team performed. Cindy says her dadughter just had her nails done before she disappeared, in preparation for an upcoming performance when the team would demonstrate a routine Jodi taught them.

Cindy says the last time she saw her daughter was the morning of her disappearance. She was sitting on her bed, petting her cat. The two had plans to meet up for lunch after dance practice.

After dance practice, Jodi called and said she was going home to shower and change, then would skip lunch and head to Morgan Green's home to do her hair.

Cindy says after lunch, she began calling Jodi, but she never answered and never returned her calls -- which was very unusual for her daughter.

Cindy says she began quickly began to worry, so she began calling all of Jodi's friends, who say they had not seen her since practice.

Cindy says she got home about 4:15, and says there was no sign Jodi had been home. The mail that was usually left in the kitchen was not there.

When Brian got home, she says they talked about calling the police. Cindy says she was even more unnerved when her daughter didn't call at 5:00, as she always did on Friday's to ask what was for dinner.

Cindy becomes emotional as she recalls the events off January 5, and quietly begins to cry.

Prosecutors show a photo of Jodi Sanderholm taken a few days before she died. They ask Cindy to identify her. It is their last question, before she leaves the stand.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 10:50am

Court is back in session after a 15-20 minute recess around 10:15.

Karie Morris is the first witness called after the break. She testified in previous hearings she saw Jodi Sanderholm riding in the passenger seat of her own car with a strange man driving the afternoon Jodi disappeared.

Morris says she called Jodi at 11:49 the morning of January 5th just to talk. She says Jodi did not pick up.

A short time later, Morris says she passed Jodi's car on the road. When she turned to look at the vehicle, she says she was surprised to see two people inside. Because of the tinted windows, she says it was hard to tell Jodi was in the passenger seat. She could not make out the driver, but knew it could not be Jodi's boyfriend. The driver was too big.

Morris says she immediately called Jodi's cell phone, but she did not pick up.

Morris says she watched as the car turned east in the directn of the Kaw Wildlife Area.

Morris leaves the stand, as Jodi's father - Brian Sanderholm - is called to testify. Just like other members of the Sanderholms, Brian incorporates the color red into his clothes -- in this case, a red and blue striped shirt. Red was his daughter's new favorite color for 2007.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 10:15am

The third witness of the day is Ark City PD officer Luke Larson. He took photographs of the mailboxes near the Sanderholm house. The photos show the mailboxes at the end of the Sandherholm's street, with the house in the not-too-distant background. Prosecutors point out the row of trees near the mailboxes.

John Gage is the next witness. He is a mail carrier for the US Post Office. He was on route by the Sanderholm's house the day Jodi vanished.

When Gage delivered mail that morning, he says he did not notice anythinig unusual as he serviced the Sanderholm's mailbox. Gage says he lived near the Sanderholm's, and took a break at his own home around 11:30.

Although Gage did not see any suspicious activity, his testimony shows the mail was delivered to the Sanderholm's that morning. Authorities know somebody picked up the mail that day, but never made it inside the house. The Sanderholm's mail was discovered stuffed in a public toilet at the lake where Jodi's car was found.

Prosecutors contend Jodi was kidnapped moments after leaving dance practice as she checked the mail less than a block from her home.

Morgan Green takes the stand next. She testifies Jodi had promised to come over on January 5, 2007, and help do her hair after dance practice. Jodi never made it. Green's testimony is very brief.

Prosecutors request a short break while they prepare for their next witness. The judge agrees.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 9:50am

The first witness of the day is Brian Rudacille, a cell phone expert. Prosecutors use him to show the jury the different cell phone towers in the area. Those towers were used to help track Justin Thurber and Jodi Sanderholm's cell signals. Testimony from Rudacille lasts less than 10 minutes.

The next witness is KBI agent David Faletti, who has taken the stand several times in the last few days as needed.

This morning, Faletti describes security video taken from the Cowley College campus the day before and the day of Jodi's disappearance. Several of Jodi's friends have already described seeing Thurber on or near campus in the hours before Jodi was reportedly kidnapped.

On January 4, 2007, security video from the college shows Jodi Sanderholm's car on campus. From a distance, you see a person believed to be Sanderholm walking towards dance practice. In other clips from the same day - taken during the time when Jodi was in practice - Justin Thurber's light blue Cadillac can be seen driving through campus repeatedly.

On January 5, 2007 - the day of Jodi's death - college security video shows Jodi Sanderholm arriving for dance practice, with Thurber's light blue Cadillac following less than a block behind.

Faletti says investigators used eyewitness testimony, backed up by the security video, to begin to piece together what happened to Jodi.

On the Friday Jodi vanished, Thurber's car can be seen entering a parking lot at the Cowley College campus, parking, and sitting for 13 minutes.

In a later clip, a man believed to be Thurber is seen leaving the car and walking towards the auditorium where Sanderholm and her friends were attending dance practice. The time-stamp on the video is approximately 11:45, less than half an hour before it's believed Jodi was kidnapped.

Prosecutors have previously said they do not think Sanderholm was kidnapped on the campus. They believe she made it to her car, drove the short distance to her house, and was most likely abducted feet from her own front door as she stopped to check the mail. Investigators found that mail stuffed in a public toilet at the lake where Sanderholm's car was discovered.

A man - believed to be Thurber - can be seen walking back to his car at 11:49 on the security video, minutes before dance practice let out.


Wednesday, Feb. 4 - 9:00am

Testimony resumes this morning in the capital murder trial of Justin Thurber, charged in the 2007 death of Ark City teenager Jodi Sanderholm.

Prosecutors have listed more than 50 witnesses who could take the stand today. Testimony so far has moved quickly, with Thurber's defense attorneys asking very few - if any - questions during cross-examination of the prosecution's witnesses.

Included in today's list of witnesses are Jodi Sanderholm's parents, expected to testify about their efforts to locate Jodi on the afternoon of January 5, 2007.

Justin Thurber's parents are also listed as witnesses. Thurber's father is expected to testify about how his son called and asked him for a ride home from an area near the lake where Jodi Sanderholm's car was later found submerged.

Prosecutors spent Tuesday developing a time-line of events leading up to Sanderholm's disappearance. Today, they are expected to show jurors what happened that afternoon and evening, immediately following Sanderholm's kidnapping.

Stay with KAKE News and for updates throughout the day.

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