For Immediate Release
Violent Career Criminal Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison
EUGENE, OR – Thomas William Cornelius, Jr., age 50, of Coos County, Oregon, was sentenced on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, by Chief U.S. District Judge Anne Aiken to 50 years in prison for being a felon in possession of firearms and for violent assaults he committed in prison while awaiting trial.
Cornelius, who has a lengthy criminal record, began burglarizing residences throughout Oregon shortly after being released from prison in August 2010. Cornelius forcibly broke into homes and, while armed with a loaded gun, stole firearms, jewelry, cash and electronics. By May 2011, Cornelius had burglarized 25 homes in Coos, Curry, Lane and Douglas counties. While returning from a vacation in Hawaii, Cornelius was stopped for speeding by an Oregon State trooper. The trooper arrested Cornelius after discovering two loaded pistols in the trunk of his rental car, which he had stolen during prior burglaries.
A subsequent investigation by the Oregon State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms led to the recovery of several other guns and valuables Cornelius had stolen from burglarized homes. The investigation also led to the identification and prosecution of Cornelius’ accomplices. In September 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Cornelius for being a felon in possession of stolen weapons.
While awaiting trial in the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon, Cornelius assaulted another inmate from behind with a prison shank. He bashed the inmate several times in the head and then stabbed him in the abdomen. Prison officials transferred Cornelius into the Special Housing Unit at Sheridan. In August 2013 Cornelius attacked another inmate with a razor blade he had secreted in his clothing. Cornelius repeatedly cut the throat of this inmate, who was handcuffed at the time. The inmate survived the attack.
A federal grand jury returned additional indictments against Cornelius for the prison assaults. Three separate trials ensued. In 2014 and 2015 federal trial juries convicted Cornelius for assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to commit murder, possessing prohibited objects in a correctional facility, and eight felon-in-possession charges.
Cornelius’ criminal history includes convictions for:
- Burglary (1985, 1988)
- Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle (1985, 1986)
- Failure to Appear (1985)
- Escape (1988, 1990)
- Assault (1988, 1990)
- Inmate in Possession of a Firearm (1990)
- Assault in the Second Degree with a Firearm (1997)
- Robbery in the First Degree with a Firearm (1997)
- Felon in Possession of a Firearm – Armed Career Criminal (1997).
In the 1997 case, Cornelius robbed a Portland, Oregon jewelry store and shot the owner during the course of the robbery.
After a sentencing hearing on September 1, 2015, Chief Judge Aiken sentenced Cornelius to a total of 50 years in federal prison based on the three jury convictions. “We applaud this lengthy and appropriate sentence imposed by Judge Aiken. This defendant’s criminal history is replete with violent, repetitive, and highly dangerous criminal conduct that has impacted numerous victims and law enforcement agencies for many years,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams. “He is more than deserving of the sentence of 50 years. This sentence will ensure that a dangerous criminal, clearly beyond reform, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Our thanks to the many law enforcement partners who have assisted an outstanding prosecution team in working to see that justice was done.”
The investigation of this case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the United States Bureau of Prisons, the Oregon State Police, Coos, Curry, Lane and Douglas County Sheriffs, with assistance from the Eugene, North Bend, Coos Bay, and Springfield Police Departments, and the Coos County District Attorney. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank R Papagni, Jr.