Crime & Courts

Thurber contests murder conviction

ARKANSAS CITY —Prosecutors say a letter written to the editor of a daily newspaper is a "pathetic attempt" by death row inmate Justin Thurber to stay in the public eye.

Thurber, 27, was convicted last year of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in the death of Cowley College student Jodi Sanderholm.

Sanderholm was abducted, raped and strangled in January 2007. Her body was found several days after her disappearance in a wildlife area near Arkansas City.

During Thurber's trial, prosecutors presented witnesses and DNA evidence to show Thurber's stalking habits and aggressive sexual behavior led to Sanderholm's strangulation murder.

DNA evidence presented to the jury was found underneath Sanderholm's fingernails, and experts testified that it matched Thurber's DNA.

Thurber's attorneys presented neither evidence nor closing arguments during his trial. At sentencing, Cowley County District Judge Jim Pringle denied one defense motion for a new trial and another motion to find Thurber mentally handicapped.

In a handwritten letter to the Arkansas Daily Traveler, Thurber challenged the DNA evidence, the credibility of witnesses and the lack of expert witnesses called by his defense team because there wasn't enough money to pay for them.

"This is just a pathetic attempt by Mr. Thurber to remain relevant to the people of Cowley County," said Cowley County prosecutor Chris Smith. "He's a control freak. He wants to still control people and the community, and he has no control."