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D.A. tries to gut evidence slaying suspect can use

Russell Thompson is preparing for a new trial for second-degree murder. The charge stems from the fatal beating of an El Jebel man nearly four years ago.
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The Eagle County District Attorney’s office is trying to gut the evidence a man can use in his defense against a charge that he beat a friend to death in El Jebel nearly four years ago.Deputy District Attorney Arly Miner is trying to have much of the evidence Russell K. Thompson used in his defense in his first trial in the beating case declared inadmissible for his second trial.Thompson was charged and tried for second-degree murder for the brutal beating of Timothy “Chico” Destromp in an El Jebel apartment on Feb. 10, 2001. A jury found him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.Thompson appealed the conviction on grounds that the district attorney didn’t disclose all the evidence that was going to be used in the trial, so he couldn’t prepare an adequate defense. Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart tossed out the conviction and ordered a new trial for manslaughter.As that new trial nears, Miner is striking at the heart of Thompson’s defense to try to prevent him from presenting some of his most compelling evidence to a jury.In the first trial in September 2002, the prosecutor then handling the case showed the jury a videotape that was taken by officers with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Eagle County at Destromp’s apartment. As the camera pans over footprints in fresh snow outside the apartment, a voice off-camera asks if someone else could have been involved besides Thompson. The person notes that the prints of boots he calls “waffle stompers” lead between apartments. Thompson was wearing tennis shoes.Miner disclosed yesterday she will only introduce the video portion of that tape as evidence in the second trial. The jury won’t hear the voice raising questions about broader involvement.Thompson claimed that the comments are vital to his defense. He alleges that he was so drunk that he passed out in Destromp’s apartment. While he was out, he claimed Destromp got in a fight with someone in the apartment above his. A trail of blood allegedly leads down to Destromp’s apartment, where Thompson theorizes the fight resumed.

Destromp was hit enough times to break every bone in his face, according to testimony in his first trial. His nasal passage collapsed and he essentially suffocated. Blood was splattered all over the walls and furniture of his apartment, which the videotape shows.Miner said she won’t introduce the audio part of that tape in the second trial because the Eagle County deputy sheriffs and CBI officers allegedly cannot identify the voice of the person raising questions – even though it was a tape created by those agencies.”It’s inappropriate evidence that’s not admissible,” she said in court yesterday.Thompson, who is representing himself, argued that the investigators, who are trying to help convict him, won’t identify the voice because they want to cover their tracks after a shoddy investigation.”That’s why I’m here today, because they ignored a lot of things,” Thompson said.Thompson also argued that the law enforcement officials should be concerned about the “truth,” not simply portraying their case in the best favorable light.Hart ruled that the videotape could be shown to the jury without the audio. Without an identity of the voice, the comments are just hearsay, the judge said.The other evidence Miner is trying to have tossed includes:

The mystery of the missing teeth. In the first trial, Thompson’s expert forensic witness, Max Scott, raised questions about the whereabouts of Destromp’s false front teeth. They weren’t found in the apartment and they weren’t in Destromp. Thompson claimed they were knocked out somewhere else in the fight. Miner claimed the teeth’s whereabouts are irrelevant because there is no evidence they were in Destromp’s mouth at the time he was beaten.Hart didn’t rule on the teeth. The alternative ending. Miner wants to bar Thompson’s expert witness from showing his own video to the jury. Scott videotaped the beating scene several weeks after the death. The site wasn’t secured so Miner said there was no guarantee conditions hadn’t changed.Thompson argued that he was incarcerated and wasn’t able to mount his defense immediately. He hired Scott as soon as he could, and Scott visited the scene of the crime as soon as he could.Scott’s video concentrates on what appears to be blood in the apartment above Destromp’s and other alleged “clues” that paint a different scenario than police laid out. Thompson argued that if Scott is accepted as an expert witness during the trial, “he ought to be allowed to exercise his investigative findings.”Hart ruled that Scott’s videotape could be used unless it is proven conditions changed since investigators were on the site. However, the limits of Scott’s testimony will be discussed further in later hearings. Details of the drinking. Miner wants Thompson barred from telling the jury how drunk he and Destromp were while partying in the El Jebel apartment. The men were drinking beer and vodka. Miner said Thompson should be allowed to describe the drinking, but not that he had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.275. That’s more than three times the amount considered for drunken driving. Destromp had a BAC of 0.416, a level that would be fatal to many people.Thompson said his alcohol level is vital to his case because he is trying to show he was confused about what happened when he woke up in Destromp’s apartment on a Saturday night and found his friend in a pool of blood. Thompson ran to a neighboring house, called police and confessed several times to Destromp’s beating.

Now he claims he was confused. “I was so hammered drunk, I woke up in jail the next morning and said ‘I did what?'” he said.Hart ruled Thompson can talk about the alcohol consumption but cannot pose it as a defense. The ruling was vague on whether or not the BAC level could be disclosed. The history of domestic violence. Miner wants Destromp’s former common-law wife, Deborah Bloss, to be prohibited from discussing beatings she allegedly received from Destromp. Thompson said he should be allowed to use that history because it ties to his theory of an alternative suspect. He said Destromp’s beatings of Bloss infuriated Destromp’s neighbor, who was having an affair with Bloss.”Judge, it was a love triangle. She was one of the three people involved,” Thompson said.Thompson claimed the neighbor had a motive to beat Destromp. He alleged Bloss would testify that the neighbor had threatened to “punish” Destromp for beating Bloss.The judge ruled Bloss’ testimony could be used if Thompson tied it to the alternative-suspect line of questioning.More pretrial hearings were set for April to determine if other evidence can be used in the trial. The second trial in the case is scheduled in May.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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