On Friday, April 26, 2019, Marshall resident, Matthew Armstrong, age 32, was found guilty of the murder in the shooting death of 26 year old Jessica Thornton following a two day jury trial held in Searcy County Circuit Court. Following the jury's verdict, the Honorable H.G. Foster sentenced Armstrong to life plus 65 years in prison.
According to Searcy County Sheriff Kenny Cassell, Armstrong was arrested on March 1, 2018 and charged with first degree murder for his involvement in Thornton's death. According to Cassell, the Searcy County Sheriff's Office responded to a call from man on February 27, 2018, stating that someone had been shot.
When law enforcement officials arrived on the scene, they found Thornton's body lying near a vehicle off of Integrity Road. Cassell said that Thornton's body was lying face down with a pistol lying under her right hand. Officials observed a large laceration on Thornton's forehead.
According to information found in the affidavit for Armstrong's arrest, during an interview with the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division, Armstrong said he was working on a barn, when Thornton arrived carrying a gun and demanding some of her property be returned. Armstrong said he placed Thornton's property near her car and she threatened to harm both of them. He said when he looked down, Thornton shot herself. During the investigation of the crime scene, evidence did not support Armstrong's rendition of events.
Thornton's body was transported to the Arkansas State Crime Lab where an autopsy was conducted. On March 1, 2018, autopsy results found that Thornton died from blunt force trauma to her head and a gunshot wound. It also concluded that the wound was not consistent with a self inflicted injury.
Following Armstrong's trial that began Thursday, April 25, 2019 and concluded on Friday, April 26, Armstrong was transported to the Searcy County Detention Center, where he awaits transport to the Arkansas Department of Correction, to begin serving the life sentence plus sixty five years imposed by the jury and the Honorable Circuit Judge H.G. Foster.