A Renton man charged with murdering 16-year-old Morton resident Austin David Jon King is connected to the homicide by cigarette butts containing his DNA found on a desolate logging road near the body.
The suspect also suffered a broken hand at the time of the boy’s disappearance and King had a fractured skull, according to charging documents in Lewis County Superior Court.
Jack Arnold Silverthorne, 20, made his first appearance in court Wednesday where he faced a first-degree murder charge for the death of King.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office arrested Silverthorne Tuesday without incident at his mother’s Renton home.
Silverthorne lived with his grandmother in the same Chapman Road trailer park in Morton where King lived with his mother and siblings. Prosecutors say they are still waiting on test lab results on DNA collected from underneath Silverthorne’s fingernails to make a stronger case.
However, Silverthorne spurred his own arrest after he began communicating with “friends” on Facebook, an Internet social-networking site, about fleeing toward Colorado or Canada as he was a suspect in King’s murder.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brad Meagher said he feels confident prosecutors have enough evidence to convict Silverthorne for murder.
“I think the puzzle’s pretty much put together at this point,” Meagher said outside the courtroom.
Based on the grimness of the murder and Silverthorne’s intentions of fleeing the country, Judge James Lawler set bail at $2 million. Silverthorne’s arraignment and trial setting is scheduled for Nov. 18.
Silverthorne’s mother appeared in court but refused to speak to reporters. Members of King’s family were also present and refused to speak to reporters.
Silverthorne appeared heavy-set and was dressed in prison orange and shackled.
If convicted, Meagher said Silverthorne could face life in prison and possibly the death penalty if the state pursues the stricter sentencing.
“It could do so at a later juncture,” Meagher said in court.
King was reported missing June 23. His body was recovered July 20 from the side of an embankment, about 42 feet off the side of a logging road, when a volunteer search and rescue crew driving the area on ATVs detected a foul smell.
Several cigarette butts were found on the road and collected by the sheriff’s office.
The Lewis County Coroner’s Office confirmed in early October King’s death was a homicide.
The sheriff’s office says King reportedly had a relationship and fathered a child with 23-year-old Sara Davis, whose birthday was celebrated in the Morton trailer park the night before King was reported missing.
Although King had a girlfriend in Chehalis, he and Silverthorne did not see eye-to-eye about Silverthorne fostering a relationship with Davis.
According to charging documents, Silverthorne on July 21 told one of his mother’s neighbors in Renton that he had a girlfriend in Morton who had a child with King and that “he would like to beat the child’s father.”
The neighbor was aware of King’s disappearance in June and a body being found near Morton the day before. She alerted the sheriff’s office to Silverthorne’s statement.
Detectives later learned Silverthorne sought medical attention July 1 at the Morton General Hospital for a broken right hand. A doctor described his injury as one consistent with a “boxer’s break,” a hand fracture common to those who suffer from impact after striking a person or surface with a closed fist.
The doctor reported a family member was present with Silverthorne and stated he should not be treated with a cast or splint “because it would draw attention.”
Meagher said King’s skull was cracked above his right ear.
A witness reported that after the birthday celebration for Davis, which ended around 11:30 p.m. June 22, he, King and Silverthorne resorted to a shack located near King’s family’s trailer and listened to music and smoked cigarettes.
The witness said King reportedly told Silverthorne that if he pursued Davis it would “conflict with their friendship.” The witness went home after midnight.
King’s girlfriend in Chehalis, who was talking to him on his cell phone at the time, reported to detectives hearing Silverthorne in the background plead with King to go riding with him on logging roads in his Ford Explorer.
King gave into Silverthorne’s request and told his girlfriend he’d call her later.
Up until that point, Silverthorne had been in contact with Davis by cell phone, calling and texting her constantly.
A search warrant issued on Silverthorne’s cell phone later showed he had a “lag” of communication with Davis between 12:05 and 2:19 a.m. on June 23, but began sending texts to her again at 2:19 a.m. and continued to do so until 4:48 a.m.
“I broke my hand and it kinda (sic) sucks,” Silverthorne texted Davis at 4:03 a.m. Davis replied that she “bet it hurts.”
“It wont (sic) once i take a couple pills and finish my bottle,” Silverthorne replied.
The sheriff’s office obtained a buccal swab from Silverthorne on July 23 with a search warrant.
On Aug. 19, a Washington State Patrol crime lab confirmed the cigarette butts obtained from the logging road matched the DNA of both Silverthorne and King.
One of King’s grandmothers who lives in the Morton trailer park, Bonnie Shields, said Wednesday morning she didn’t know how Silverthorne was connected to the murder.
“I couldn’t even tell you what the guy looks like,” Shields said of Silverthorne.