A renter “gunned down” the Creighton baseball administrator who had come to the rental home to make a repair, firing more than a dozen shots, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Friday.
“This one particularly, it’s sickening, it’s devastating ... there aren’t words to describe. It’s unimaginable,” he said. “It’s as cold-blooded as you can get.”
Ladell Thornton, 43, is accused of shooting Christopher Gradoville, 37, who had gone to the home near 61st and Pratt Streets to fix the bathroom. Kleine said Gradoville had a business flipping houses.
Omaha police officers were sent to the house about 7:55 a.m. Thursday to investigate a report of gunshots. They found Gradoville shot to death, with several wounds, in the front yard.
Officers took Thornton into custody at the house. Thornton “made statements to law enforcement that were incriminating,” Deputy Douglas County Attorney Emily Medcalf said in court.
Thornton, who went before a Douglas County Court judge Friday afternoon, was ordered held without bail on charges of first-degree murder, use of a weapon to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Gradoville “did absolutely nothing to deserve, or was a part of anything that would deserve, this kind of outcome,” Kleine said after the hearing. “It’s just beyond belief that somebody could be carrying on and meet their end in this manner.”
Gradoville joined Creighton University’s baseball staff as its director of operations in fall 2020. The former Omaha Bryan standout played for the Jays from 2004 to 2007.
Omaha police officials said in a press release that “Thornton recently leased the residence and Gradoville had arrived to complete maintenance.”
Kleine said he wasn’t aware of any problematic interactions between Gradoville and Thornton in the days before the shooting and couldn’t yet say whether the two had even interacted before Thursday.
Kleine said he didn’t yet know whether Thornton was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the shooting.
Thornton has an extensive criminal record, including convictions for negligent child abuse and theft. Most recently, he was charged with assault by strangulation or suffocation and terroristic threats and was given a $75,000 bail in late June. He was able to post the 10%, or $7,500, to be released from the Douglas County Jail a few days later.
Kleine said his office asked a judge to review the bail in that case, so on July 28, the bail was increased to $150,000 and Thornton was taken into custody. The next day, Thornton posted the remainder — another $7,500 — to get out of jail again.
According to an affidavit, Thornton’s ex-girlfriend went to his home near 33rd Avenue and Jaynes Street in June. When she declined to have sex with him, the affidavit said, Thornton grabbed the woman by her wrist and threw her to the ground.
He then put his hands around her neck and choked her until she couldn’t breathe, the affidavit said. The woman told police that Thornton shouted, “(Expletive), you know who I am? I’m gonna kill you, (expletive).”
Thornton has 316 entries on his criminal record, a prosecutor said Friday, including a felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance, which prohibits him from carrying a firearm.
“He’s no stranger to law enforcement and the court system,” Kleine said.
Thornton’s appointed public defender said Thornton has lived his entire life in Omaha, has six children and is self-employed as a barber.