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Wife of slain college baseball official sues former homeowners over 2021 shooting

The widow of Creighton University baseball official Christopher Gradoville claims a proper background check was not conducted on the man who is charged in his murder.

OMAHA, Neb. (CN) — The widow of a university baseball administrator shot and killed at a house where he had gone to fix a toilet is suing the company that owned the home, alleging it did not background check the renter, who is charged with the murder of Creighton University Baseball Director of Operations Christopher Gradoville.

Nikki Gradoville, serving as the administrator of her deceased husband's estate, says in the complaint filed Tuesday in Douglas County District Court, that Marc G. Lewis, Stephanie M. Lewis and the Team Lewis Real Estate Group did not perform a background check on Ladell Thornton. The renter had a lengthy criminal history and was out on $150,000 bail in connection to two felony charges — assault by strangulation or suffocation and terroristic threats — when Gradoville was killed.

“Most landlords do background checks on people,” Michael Polk, of the Omaha firm Watke, Polk & Sena that is representing Gradoville said. “You would think that it would be reasonable for them to do that.”

The Gradovilles and Lewises were longtime friends, Polk told Courthouse News, and Christopher Gradoville performed work for them. He had gone over to the house, a single-story, 830-square-foot structure in Omaha, Nebraska, to fix a toilet when the shooting occurred.

Detectives testified at Thornton’s preliminary hearing that video from a doorbell camera showed Gradoville walking up to the house carrying a large cardboard box before the shooting started.

Authorities say Thornton chased Gradoville around the home and shot him 20 times.

Thornton was declared mentally unfit for trial several times, but District Court Judge Horacio Wheelock found him competent to stand trial in July after he had been sufficiently medicated. He is charged with first degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person in connection to Gradoville’s death.

News reports indicate Thornton is being held at the Lincoln Regional Center, a psychiatric facility.

Wheelock has set a pretrial conference for Sept. 5.

The lawsuit says the defendants did not conduct a background check on Thornton nor did they warn him of his criminal history. They reasonably should have known he was a “felon and/or was on release from pending violent felonies,” the complaint states.

The Nebraska Secretary of State lists Team Lewis Real Estate as an inactive company based in Valley, Nebraska, a small city just northwest of Omaha. The company was dissolved June 21.

The website for the Douglas County Assessor indicates Marc Lewis and others purchased the Pratt Street house in Sept. 13, 2021 — a little more than two weeks before the fatal shooting — and sold it in Feb. 11, 2022.

Gradoville’s slaying hit his community hard. An online obituary indicates he was a 2007 business marketing graduate of Creighton University, a Jesuit university located just north of downtown Omaha and was a standout player there, earning honors such as Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week, the university noted in the wake of his death.

After graduation, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball Draft and made it to the AAA level during four seasons in the Rangers organization. He joined Creighton’s staff in 2020.

Polk said his client not seeking to be punitive.

“Nikki Gradoville is not looking to bankrupt these folks,” he said. "Landlords should take a moment to check their prospective tenants. I believe it is reasonable to think that a landlord is going to do that, especially if you are going to send workers over there.”

Marc Lewis declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon and Stephanie Lewis did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Categories / Law, Personal Injury

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