Two days after a jury recommended he be sent to California's Death Row to await execution, convicted killer Mark Scott Thornton said Wednesday that he is sorry for slaying Westlake nurse Kellie O'Sullivan and thankful that the jury sentenced him to die.
"I'm sorry for what happened," Thornton told The Times in his first public comments since the 1993 murder. "It was an extreme accident. Nothing I would have ever dreamed of doing.
"It came out of the blue," he said of the killing. "I can't believe it happened. If I could, I would die for Kellie to come back."
During a wide-ranging interview that lasted almost three hours at the Ventura County Jail, the 20-year-old Thornton--who could become the youngest inmate on Death Row if sentenced to die by a Ventura County judge next month--also said that he favored the death penalty over a life prison sentence.
"The death sentence is the easiest way out for me," he said, talking through a glass partition by telephone. "I am not scared of San Quentin. I was scared that the jury was going to come back with life in prison without parole. On Death Row, I can live in peace and not worry about getting stitches or getting stabbed, raped or none of that stuff.
"Life without parole is like putting me in a room with a tiger and letting him take bite after bite out of me, a little at a time," he added. "The death sentence--that was my victory."
Thornton was reluctant to give a detailed account of the murder of O'Sullivan on Sept. 14, 1993, saying that he plans to appeal the jury's death verdict. But he did describe the murder as an accident.
"It was not the death someone would have wanted, but it was not a death of torture or pain," he said. "I never made her beg. I never made her do nothing."
Speaking calmly and in measured tones, Thornton criticized prosecutors for basing their case against him too much on speculation and also his two court-appointed attorneys for refusing to allow him to take the witness stand.
He wanted to testify at his trial so that O'Sullivan's family would know exactly what happened after she was abducted, Thornton said. But he said that his lawyers would not permit him to do so and that the judge refused to replace them.
"I want to talk to Kellie O'Sullivan's mother to tell her what happened," Thornton said. "I think she should know instead of wondering how her daughter was killed. It would take away the mystery, the grief and the hatred."
O'Sullivan, 33, a single mother, was abducted after leaving a Thousand Oaks pet store. Thornton drove her up into the Santa Monica Mountains, where she was shot once in the chest and twice in the back, according to court testimony.
Thornton indicated there was a struggle before O'Sullivan was shot. He produced a copy of a court document in which a former cellmate told investigators that O'Sullivan struggled with Thornton. Thornton confirmed that he told the ex-cellmate about the murder, then said: "I'm not going to say whether that's true because I still have my appeal. But it's real close."
Thornton said he would seek an appeal to testify so that he could let the world know he is sorry. He also said that although he preferred to die, it might be best for his sister if he lived.
Deputy Ventura County Public Defender Howard Asher declined to comment Wednesday on Thornton's remarks. Deputy Ventura County Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris, who prosecuted the case, called Thornton a liar and said he would not put much credibility in his statements.
"I wouldn't put any stock in his version of anything," said Kossoris, who argued in court that Thornton ordered the nurse to her knees before shooting her once in the chest and twice in the back.
Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath has set an April 17 sentencing date for Thornton. The judge has the option of accepting the jury's death penalty recommendation or imposing life in prison.