Discovery process trips up Thompson
September 22, 2002
Russell Thompson made his first glaring mistake Saturday in his effort to represent himself against a charge of second-degree murder.
Thompson was prevented by the judge from entering evidence about a bloody hand print left on an outside wall of the apartment of Timothy “Chico” Destromp, the man he is accused of beating to death on Feb. 10, 2001.
Thompson wanted to use analysis of the hand print to support his theory that someone else entered the apartment in El Jebel while Thompson was passed out, and killed Destromp.
Thompson?s forensics expert was preparing to discuss his analysis of the hand print when Deputy District Attorney Brenda Parks objected that Thompson failed to disclose before the trial that he planned to use the information. That is required under what the justice system calls rules of discovery. The prosecutor was entitled to know what the defendant would introduce in the trial so she could prepare to refute it.
Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart agreed with Parks that Thompson failed to “discover” the evidence to Parks before the trial. He disallowed its introduction.
Thompson is representing himself after firing the public defender last year. He claimed she did an inadequate job of defending him and wanted him to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
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Instead, Thompson pleaded not guilty and is representing himself. The 39-year-old construction worker said he and his family cannot afford an attorney. Thompson is receiving help from a court-appointed legal advisor.
Until Saturday, Thompson appeared to be doing an impressive job of representing himself. He has a command of court procedures and a general grasp of law. He has a professional appearance and comes across as an educated, polite person. That was meaningless, however, when it came to discovery procedures.
Despite that setback, Thompson has raised a number of questions about the state?s case either through cross examination of the prosecutor?s witnesses or testimony of those he called.
Among the points raised:
? John Rubel, who lived in the apartment next to Destromp in a ramshackle A-frame house in El Jebel, acknowledged that he had a sexual relationship for a “couple of weeks” with Destromp’s girlfriend, Debra Bloss. He said he was aware that Destromp beat Bloss but that he “ignored it.”
? Rubel also acknowledged that a passageway existed between his apartment and Destromp?s. He said he used it once to get into his locked apartment but that was before Destromp lived there.
? Rubel said he initially told Thompson?s investigator, John Swanson, that a third resident of the A-frame was around that night. The presence of Jason Gray has been an issue because blood was found on the doorknob of his third-story apartment and a handrail leading to it. Rubel said he later learned that he was wrong about Gray?s presence. Gray said he was in Snowmass with his girlfriend at the time of the murder.
? Rubel said he liked to watch boxing and that he had boxing gloves and a punching bag hanging in his living room. The prosecution has concentrated on Thompson?s interest and apparent proficiency in boxing. Destromp was killed by multiple blows to the face. Virtually every bone was broken in the man?s face, and he was drowned by his blood when his airways collapsed, according to forensic pathologist Robert Kurtzman. Six ounces of blood were found in Destromp?s stomach.
? Eagle County Sheriff?s Office investigator Doug Winters acknowledged that Rubel changed the information he gave to cops at least three times regarding his presence at Destromp?s apartment at the night of his death. Winters said Rubel once indicated he visited Destromp?s apartment briefly at dusk, then said it was 6 p.m. and later said it was 10 p.m. However, Winters said Rubel wasn?t considered a suspect.
? Gray acknowledged that he confronted Destromp once about beating up Bloss. He said he indicated that he would call police. Destromp hit him from behind in the confrontation and Gray pushed him away, Gray said.
Prosecutor Parks attempted to offset any damage caused by the testimony of Rubel and Gray. She asked both men, while they were on the stand separately, if they killed Destromp. Both men insisted they had not.
When the trial resumes today, Thompson?s forensics expert is expected to outline his theory of what happened in Destromp?s apartment. Thompson has announced he will take the stand himself.
The case could go to the jury for deliberations today or Tuesday.