Man In Killing Of Manager Gets Jail Samuel Ross Received 30-60 Years In The Botched Houlihan's Robbery. Two Others Pleaded Guilty Before He Could Testify.

Posted: May 20, 1997

Samuel Ross, a strapping 21-year-old who provided the muscle in a botched robbery that netted $2 and left a young Houlihan's restaurant manager dead last May, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison yesterday.

Because he agreed early on to testify against his two partners in the crime, prosecutors allowed Ross to plead guilty to third-degree murder and avoid life behind bars.

Ross never got to hold up his end of the bargain. David Travers, 19, ultimately pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and Johnnie Blalock, 31, to second-degree murder, and they received life sentences.

All three also have pleaded guilty to robbery and other charges.

Friends and family of the victim, John Thurberg, 28, of Langhorne, said they hoped the last of the three sentencings would provide them with a sense of closure.

In court yesterday, Thurberg's fiancee, Patti Hemko, talked about the approach of June and all of the wedding announcements she had begun to notice in local newspapers.

She had planned to marry Thurberg in October. She marked the anniversary of his death last week.

``He was my safe haven. He was where I felt OK,'' she said. ``And I don't have that now.''

Still, Hemko said she held some hope for Ross, who has passed a high school-equivalency exam and said he found God in the year since his arrest.

``I found out the path I was taking was wrong,'' Ross said during an apology to Thurberg's friends and family, who filled the front row of the courtroom. ``I needed God in my life.''

But Joanne Thurberg, John's sister, held nothing but anger for Ross. ``I don't feel that any one of them is any less guilty,'' she said, choking back tears. ``I want . . . I want them dead. And I can't have that.''

Thurberg's mother, Alicia, shook with emotion during parts of yesterday's sentencing hearing. Ross, in a gray polo shirt, accepted his sentence in silence.

Before announcing the prison term, Montgomery County Court Judge Richard J. Hodgson said he recognized Ross' cooperation with authorities. He added: ``I also recognize it was in your best interest to do so.''

Hodgson had spent some of his harshest words on Blalock, who in 1995 was elected employee of the year at the Abington Houlihan's and, investigators say, hatched the plan that led to Thurberg's murder.

According to court documents, Blalock gave Travers and Ross the restaurant's front-door key before May 13, 1996. On that day, documents said, the three men took a bus from their homes - within several blocks of one another in North Philadelphia - to Abington with a .38-caliber revolver and a sawed-off shotgun.

About 7 a.m., Blalock entered through a back door as his partners came in through the front, and the partners hid under a table and waited for employees to cash their paychecks so they could rob them and the restaurant's safe, documents said.

But Thurberg spotted Travers and Ross when he arrived at 7:30 a.m. and took a swing at one with a bar stool. He tried to wrestle the shotgun away from Ross until Travers pointed the revolver in his face, the documents said.

Travers and Ross tried to open the safe with Thurberg's key, without success. Thurberg and several other employees were herded into the men's room.

Standing on a white tile floor, investigators said, Travers picked Thurberg up by the collar and shot him point-blank in the back of the head.

The three men picked up two $1 bills that had fallen from Thurberg's pocket and hopped on a Philadelphia-bound SEPTA train.

``The guns weren't supposed to be loaded,'' Ross said yesterday. ``But things turned out different.''

Blalock has since tried to withdraw his guilty plea, but Hodgson denied that request last month.

Thurberg's family has filed legal papers indicating that it plans to file a civil lawsuit against Blalock and Travers. They declined to comment on the suit after yesterday's sentencing.

comments powered by Disqus