Jury returns guilty verdict in Fannin Co. capital murder trial

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BONHAM, TX - A Fannin County jury has found Thomas Taunton guilty of killing three of his family members in January of 2012.

The jury of seven men and five women spent less than an hour deliberating Thomas Taunton's fate. They found him guilty of capital murder and murder.

Authorities alleged Taunton shot and killed his stepfather, 73-year-old double amputee Harold Harpst, his mother, Sue Harpst, and his sister, Regina Taunton, then dumped their bodies in a field off State Highway 11 in Grayson County and fled the state.

For six days jurors heard witness testimony and saw forensic evidence from the crime scenes.

After being absent during his jury trial for three days, Thomas Taunton finally returned to the courtroom Tuesday as the last witness, to tell his side of the story.

Taunton testified about his relationship with his mother, Sue Harpst, saying "they were never real close, but he respected her." He also said he used to help his step-father, Harold Harpst, with projects around his mother's Leonard home. Harold lost both of his lower legs to diabetes.

In Taunton's version of events, he discovered Harold had shot his mother, and after taking the gun away from Harold, he fought him in the shower, put a running water nozzle into his mouth, and held his nose until he stopped moving. He says he then found his sister, Regina Taunton, shot to death in her bedroom.

Taunton told the court he never shot any of them, even though autopsy results show Harold was shot three times. When asked how Harold was shot, he said, "I don't know how that happened."

Prosecutors asked Taunton why he told authorities his family was missing. He answered, "I don't know. I wasn't going to tell them I killed them!"

Earlier in trial, we listened to a phone call recording in which Taunton admits to the murders, and describes them in detail. Tuesday in court, he said that was "just a story."

The jury will be back at 9 a.m. Wednesday to start the punishment phase of the trial. The punishment range for capital murder is the death penalty, or life without parole. The prosecutors have said they are not seeking the death penalty in the case.