Great Western Inn murder suspect pleads guilty before trial

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 5:57 PM EST
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(1/15/2020) - Jessica Flood's gruesome murder pushed law enforcement to shut down the Great Western Inn in Mt. Morris Township.

Two people were immediately charged with Flood's murder. More than a year and a half later, the case against them has come to a close with a guilty plea.

"I feel like there's the end of the tunnel and I can focus on finally grieving for my daughter," said Flood's mother, Michele Bennett.

Mt. Morris Township police found Flood dead inside the Great Western Inn motel in June 2018. She had been strangled to death and stuffed under a mattress.

By the time new guests at the motel discovered her body, police believe she had been dead for three days.

"I just miss her so much -- her laugh, her smile. She always liked to make people laugh and she was just a goofy child, beautiful," Bennett said.

Jennifer Harrington, 34, and Aaron Thornton, 37, were dating at the time of the death and both were charged with murder. But a judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to prove Harrington killed her, just that she was there.

So, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said Harrington pleaded guilty to being an accessory and agreed to testify against Thornton at trial.

"And so, once that happened, Mr. Thornton saw the handwriting on the wall and decided I better plead guilty," Leyton said.

Thornton is facing a minimum of 25 years to life in prison for second-degree murder. Harrington's charge will be dismissed if she successfully completes five years of probation.

"It saves us from having to try it. And most importantly, it gives closure to the family of the victim," Leyton said. "Life is a gift and nobody has a right to take somebody else's gift."

The pair will receive their sentences next month.

Flood's murder was the final straw for Mt. Morris Township police. They worked with Leyton to shut down the motel that summer.

Flood's Mom is hopeful that closing that motel has saved others from her daughter's fate.

The Great Western Inn remains closed. It's doors have not been open for business since it was originally shut it down in September of 2018.

Mt. Morris Township Police Chief Terence Green and Leyton had been pushing to close the motel, saying it was a public nuisance with consistent crime.

Police responded to 106 complaints at the hotel from January to mid-August of 2018.

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