Doubt raised in El Jebel murder case
April 12, 2002
Russell Thompson’s claim that he is wrongfully accused of killing a friend in El Jebel last year gained support this week from an expert in crime-scene restoration.
Thompson’s expert witness, Max Scott, submitted a report to Eagle County District Court this week that says evidence suggests that someone other than Thompson was responsible for the beating death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp in February 2001.
“There is no physical evidence found at the scene that is consistent with the defendant being involved in the beating death of the decedent,” Scott wrote.
Scott noted that Thompson “did not sustain any injuries consistent with the injuries sustained by the decedent.” And the bloodstains on Thompson’s clothing are consistent with his claim that he cradled the dying Destromp’s head in his arms.
Thompson has repeatedly noted that his hands were not bloodied and swollen, as expected if he used them to beat a man to death. His clothes, he said, lacked the blood splatters expected from a fight, especially the one that left Destromp’s apartment covered with smears and splatters.
Thompson has repeatedly claimed in recent months that the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation undertook a “sloppy” investigation because they were convinced they had their man.
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Thompson supplied them with that confidence. He reported the death from a neighbor’s house and confessed four separate times to the beating within the next 24 hours.
Thompson has recanted his confessions. He said he was so drunk on the night of Destromp’s death that he convinced himself upon waking from a stupor that he was responsible for beating his friend.
But Thompson claimed he realized once he started examining the evidence that he wasn’t responsible.
He is facing trial April 29 for second-degree murder.
Thompson was able to get Scott, president of The Forensic Trio Inc., appointed by the court as a forensics expert. He is being paid by the state at a rate lower than market value for his services.
Scott examined evidence presented by investigators, visited the crime scene, reconstructed what he believes happened and reached a different conclusion than police.
His report says he will testify that the investigators failed to perform several “general industry standards of crime-scene investigation.”
For example, Scott alleges that investigators failed to properly study a trail of footprints and bloodstains between the lower-story apartments and the upper-story apartment. A trail of blood drops and bloodstains in a bedroom of the upper-floor apartment also went untested.
The report also claims that a tool belt with a hammer that appeared to be bloodstained were not examined by police. Scott said he pointed that out to the district attorney’s office and asked for forensic analysis. The request was denied.
Thompson maintains that autopsy photos show there are hammer claw marks on Destromp’s back. He believes that forensic examination of the hammer might have provided evidence about the killer.
Scott’s report agrees that several pieces of evidence point to a different killer or killers.
“During the course of the police agency investigation, there was found at the scene physical evidence consistent with another unknown individual or individuals being present at the scene during the beating death of the decedent,” Scott reported.
“Individuals other than the defendant may have been involved in the beating death of the decedent,” the report says.
While it may not be a shock that an expert hired to examine evidence for Thompson came up with information favorable to his client, Scott’s analysis is significant because it provides the first evidence to support the man’s claims.
“We really needed to find out what happened because the police never tried,” said Thompson. “They thought they were going to sweep me under the rug – that I was convicted and sent away.”
District Attorney Mike Goodbee said Thursday he hadn’t received Scott’s report yet. He said he may offer comment once he reads it. Most of the evidence compiled by the district attorney’s office won’t be made public until the trial.
Thompson, out on bond and living in Colorado Springs, recounted in a telephone interview Thursday what he believes happened on Feb. 10, 2001.
He said he arrived at Destromp’s apartment in a ramshackle A-frame on Valley Road at about 3 p.m. on that Saturday. The two men worked as carpenters for the same construction company for 4 1/2 years. They were friendly, but didn’t hang out together all that much.
Thompson said they drank vodka and beer heavily and at one point even had an argument that blew over. Thompson said he passed out on the couch sometime in the evening and didn’t awaken until 9:45 p.m., when a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman rapped on the door.
After the deliveryman left, Thompson said he discovered Destromp in the kitchen of the small apartment, cradled the dying man, then ran out of the apartment to a house in the neighboring subdivision and called police.
Thompson said he initially convinced himself that he must have killed his friend, but it was due to his drunken state. A blood alcohol test 4 1/2 hours after his 911 call showed Thompson’s level was 0.275, still well above the 0.1 level considered too drunk to drive in Colorado.
The footprints and bloody trail outside Destromp’s apartment to an adjacent residence, plus Destromp’s strained relations with his immediate neighbors, fueled Thompson’s theory that someone else beat the man.
Destromp had a history of domestic violence against his girlfriend. He was cited by Pitkin County deputies twice for assault when he lived in the Crystal River Valley.
Thompson said the girlfriend told him that two men living in other apartments in the A-frame were angry with Destromp because they knew he was beating her. The woman allegedly had an affair with at least one of the other men.
The girlfriend had fled Colorado shortly before Destromp’s death and was questioned by authorities in Texas. They concluded she had no ties to the beating death of her boyfriend.
Thompson speculated that a fight broke out with at least one neighbor in Destromp’s apartment or another unit while Thompson was passed out.
Police reports verify that one neighbor acknowledged being in Destromp’s apartment the night of the beating. Although the man changed his story several times – about his presence, how many times he was present and the times – he wasn’t regarded as a suspect by police.
Thompson believes that friends of the killer or killers helped cover up their actions and realized they could pin it on Thompson because he was passed out in the apartment.
Thompson claimed he has evidence for the trial that shows a Domino’s Pizza was ordered by telephone from a different apartment and sent to Destromp’s apartment. He said Domino’s has a record of where the phone call came from.
He believes that was a deliberate act to make sure he was spotted at the crime scene. Thompson claimed it will backfire because the deliveryman has testified he didn’t see any blood on Thompson.
Thompson has subpoenaed both of Destromp’s immediate neighbors to testify at the trial. The resident of an adjacent A-frame has also been called to testify.
Thompson will be forced to try to prove his theory, or at least raise reasonable doubt about his own involvement, without an attorney. He fired his lawyer from the public defender’s office for alleged incompetence last year. He said public defender Elizabeth Espinosa was unwilling to adequately represent him and pressed him to accept a plea bargain despite his insistence that he was innocent.
District Judge Richard Hart refused Thompson’s request to appoint a different attorney. Judge Hart was injured in a skiing accident, and the case is now being heard by Judge Terry Diem, who will review another Thompson request for appointment of an attorney.
It is unknown if Judge Hart’s injuries will postpone the scheduled start of the trial.