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Inmate goes on trialin coastal weapons case.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

A federal prison inmate doesn't yet know what penalty he'll face for slashing a former cellmate's throat and stabbing another prisoner at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution in Yamhill County.

But Thomas William Cornelius, 50, is presumably aware that he could end up spending the rest of his life behind bars if a jury convicts him of possessing any of 13 guns that were stolen from homes along the Highway 101 corridor between Port Orford and Florence in late 2010 and early 2011.

A trial in the weapons case began Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene.

Cornelius - who was convicted last year of attacking a former Eugene banker and another inmate at the federal prison - faces nine counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. If found guilty of any of the gun charges, he could be sentenced to life in prison under a federal "armed career criminal" law.

Federal prosecutor Frank Papagni told jurors in an opening statement that he intends to call several dozen witnesses to help prove allegations that Cornelius swiped guns, jewelry and other property while committing a series of residential burglaries along the Oregon Coast.

The list of prosecution witnesses includes other men who claim to have participated in the break-ins with Cornelius.

"At the end of this case, we anticipate that (evidence will show that Cornelius) possessed every one of these 13 firearms" stolen in the burglaries, Papagni told the jury.

Cornelius's court- appointed attorney, Per Olson of Portland, pointed out in court that his client never faced burglary charges.

Olson asserted in his opening statement to the jury that Cornelius's alleged accomplices - two of whom have been convicted of charges related to the break-ins - lied to investigators when they blamed Cornelius for planning the crimes, in order to obtain lighter sentences in their respective criminal cases.

"We don't dispute these burglaries happened," Olson said. "We dispute (Cornelius') involvement in them."

The trial - Cornelius's third in Eugene in less than a year - is expected to last about two weeks.

A federal jury convicted Cornelius last April of stabbing and clubbing former Eugene banker Randy Mainwaring at the Sheridan prison in 2012. Mainwaring was serving a sentence for bank fraud and identity theft at the time.

A second jury found Cornelius guilty in July of attempted murder for using a razor blade to slash another prisoner's throat in 2013.

Cornelius has not yet been sentenced for attacking the two inmates.

Cornelius was arrested in 2011 after police found stolen guns in his car during a traffic stop near Reedsport. At the time, he was on supervised release after serving 15 years on earlier convictions for robbery and assault. As a convicted felon, Cornelius was barred from possessing firearms.

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Title Annotation:Local News; Felon Thomas Cornelius is accused of possessing 13 guns stolen in 2010 and 2011
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 3, 2015
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