Man found guilty of murder in Va. rookie police officer's death

Katie Thyne, 24, was the first Newport News officer killed in the line of duty in 25 years

By Peter Dujardin
Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Newport News Circuit Court jury on Thursday found a 41-year-old man guilty of second-degree murder in the 2020 death of a rookie police officer.

After two hours of deliberations, the 12-member jury determined that Vernon E. Green II murdered Newport News Police Officer Katherine M. “Katie” Thyne on Jan. 23, 2020, when he drove off as officers were attempting to pull him out of his parked car during a marijuana investigation.

Officer Katherine
Officer Katherine "Katie" Thyne died in the hospital after being dragged by a vehicle during a traffic stop. (Photo/NNPD)

The 24-year-old Thyne — a former U.S. Navy sailor who began as a police recruit about 14 months before her death — was trapped between the driver’s door and frame of Green’s fleeing sedan. She died after the car struck a tree about a block away.

Thyne was the first Newport News police officer killed in the line of duty in 25 years, and the city’s first female officer slain on the job.

Green, of Newport News, faces up to 41 years in prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 17 by Circuit Court Judge Christopher Papile. That includes 40 years on the second-degree murder count and another year on the felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

The jury had the option of instead finding Green guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which could have cut the maximum sentence to 10 years for the death. The 12-member panel appeared to be made up of seven white jurors, four Black jurors and one Asian juror.

About 30 spectators supporting the case against Green — police officers, prosecutors and Thyne’s friends and family members — were happy with the verdict, with several hugging each other after it was announced.

”We wanted justice for Katie, and we got that today,” said Thyne’s aunt, Cassie Thyne-Fenlon, 51, of Lowell, Massachusetts. “I’m very grateful that the jury made the right decision.” Green, she said, “didn’t show any remorse, and it was hard to watch that.”

[RELATED: Va. police officer dies after being dragged during traffic stop]

Green’s wife, Angela Harper Green, sat quietly in the courtroom as the jury deliberated in the back room. “No matter what people say about him, he’s still my husband,” she said. “I love him.”

She declined to comment after the verdict, walking somberly out of the courtroom.

The prosecutors, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Guthinger and Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James Patterson, did not speak to reporters after leaving the courtroom.

Green’s attorney, Tyrone Johnson, said he disagreed with but respected the verdict. “Of course, he’s disappointed,” Johnson said, adding that Green plans to appeal the verdict, but is remorseful about what happened that night.

During the three-day trial, Johnson contended his client did not act with “malice” — that while the case was extremely sad and tragic, Green “didn’t intend on hurting anyone.”

But prosecutors contended Green’s actions constituted murder because he should have known that driving away could cause death or great bodily harm to the officers. They also asserted Green’s own testimony shows he knew Thyne was trapped in his fleeing car.

At about 6:40 p.m. on the night of the incident, Thyne and Officer Nicholas Meier demanded Green get out of his car as they investigated a report — from an officer at police headquarters watching video surveillance footage — that two people were smoking marijuana at Monitor-Merrimac Overlook Park.

That was about 15 months before the Virginia General Assembly voted to legalize marijuana and made smoking it in public a $25 civil penalty.

Green testified Thursday that he and a female passenger had indeed been smoking pot. But they were done with the joint, he said, and “were just talking” when police showed up about five or 10 minutes later.

While the woman got out immediately at Meier’s request, Green said he wanted more than the officers’ explanation that they were doing “a narcotics investigation.” He would not exit his Mercedes sedan.

“I was puzzled,” Green testified Thursday. “A narcotics investigation? What are you talking about?”

In video footage — captured on the officers’ body cameras and played for jurors at the trial — Thyne opens Green’s door and she and Meier tell him to get out, saying they’d explain the situation once he was out of the car.

But Green tells the officers that “we’re just sitting here” and “we didn’t do anything.”

A back and forth continued, and grew more heated over the next minute, before the officers began trying to yank Green out of the car. But Green testified that he tried to flee when he saw an opening. “When they stopped for a second from pulling me, I decided to try to get away,” Green said.

[RELATED: Memorial for fallen Va. officer draws more than 2,000]

Green acknowledged he fled the officers because he had a handgun in a lunch bag on the car’s floorboard — and he knew that several prior criminal convictions barred him from having the weapon.

As he drove away, Green said, he “felt Officer Thyne on me.” But neither the prosecution nor the defense asked him to elaborate on Thyne’s positioning or how long he felt her there. About eight seconds later, Green veered off a roadway, jumped a curb, hit a street sign and struck a tree.

A medical examiner testified Wednesday that Thyne’s leg and pelvis were separated by the impact, causing a gaping wound and rapid bleeding. Green said he doesn’t recall hitting the tree — and woke up in a front yard with the car’s airbag deployed.

Green said he didn’t know anyone was killed in the incident until police took him to the magistrate’s office the next morning and charged him with felony homicide.

Thyne moved to Hampton Roads when she was stationed at Newport News Shipbuilding during her time with the Navy. That’s when Thyne met Robert Van, who served with her on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, and his wife, Chrisse.

The couple said at this week’s trial that they became close friends with Thyne and her wife, Whitlee, and got to know the couple’s daughter, Raegan, now 4.

“I’m very happy with the verdict,” Chrisse Van said. “And I pray that one day he realizes what he’s done ... and has remorse for what he did.”

It’s sad, Van said, that Raegan will have to go the rest of her life without one of her mothers. Thyne left the Navy for the police, she said, in large part because she didn’t want to have to leave her daughter behind on any overseas deployment.

At the same time, Van said, she feels sorry for Green’s wife and what she has to go through. “She’s an innocent victim in this too,” she said.

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