Expert: Murder story all wrong
September 24, 2002
A forensic expert testified yesterday that Timothy “Chico” Destromp was beaten outside his El Jebel apartment last year by someone other than the man accused of murdering him.
According to expert witness Max Scott, Destromp was attacked outside his apartment and then staggered inside to die.
That version of events is in direct opposition to the the theory proposed by police and prosecutors as they have worked to convict defendant Russell Thompson of second-degree murder in Destromp’s death.
Scott, deemed by the court to be an expert in piecing together crime scenes and interpreting bloodstain patterns, was hired at the state’s expense to help Thompson build his case.
“There’s no evidence that shows that you were involved in an assault on Mr. Destromp,” said Scott, in response to a question from Thompson.
Deputy District Attorney Brenda Parks presented the state’s case against Thompson last week. A jury heard investigators with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation contend that a fight took place inside Destromp’s tiny apartment in a decrepit A-frame house in El Jebel on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001.
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The state’s witness, CBI agent Kevin Humphreys, said his analysis of bloodstain patterns indicated a fight started in Destromp’s living room and that the man stumbled or was knocked into the bathroom and bedroom before finally collapsing in the kitchen. Destromp, who would have turned 46 years old Saturday, died in a pool of blood.
Humphreys explained to the 12-member jury that his study of the crime scene indicated that Destromp was getting hit because of the way blood splattered across walls, the floor and appliances.
However, Scott contended Monday that the fight took place outside Destromp’s apartment ? possibly at one of the neighbors’ units ? and that Thompson stumbled back into his residence to die.
“There is no evidence anywhere of an altercation taking place in Mr. Destromp’s apartment,” Scott said. “There’s only evidence of Mr. Destromp walking, falling and stumbling through [his] apartment.”
Here’s the scenario that Scott portrayed:
First, a light blood-loss pattern in snow outside the A-frame and on the handrail of an upstairs apartment indicates the fight started outside. Destromp came to his front door and left a bloody palm print on the outside door frame. He fell through the doorway and onto his knees, possibly stood up and fell into a chair in the living room.
Scott testified that he believes Destromp struggled into the kitchen and slouched onto the outside of the refrigerator. He made his way to the bathroom, traveled into the bedroom and brushed against several walls before he went back to the kitchen “and fell backwards with a plop” against a counter. Destromp eventually slumped to the floor and died.
Scott came to his conclusion based on bloodstains that he claimed fell straight down in drops and from swipes that Destromp left with his bloody hands and limbs. Both would be consistent with a person bleeding profusely and traveling around the apartment in obvious distress.
Scott testified that he found no “cast-off stains” of the type that would be left when an assailant’s fist smacked a victim’s face and blood flew in the direction of the blow and then backwards as a hand was drawn back to deliver another blow.
Destromp was hit enough times to break virtually every bone in his face, according to the pathologist who examined him. Ultimately he died because blood filled his collapsed airways. He was found with six ounces of blood in his stomach.
But something of Destromp’s that wasn’t found interested Scott. He testified that Destromp was missing his front teeth when the autopsy was performed. Destromp’s former girlfriend testified Destromp had his front teeth last time she saw him, five days before his death.
“The teeth aren’t in the apartment,” Scott told the jury. “They’re not on Mr. Destromp. They’re not in Mr. Destromp. Therefore, they’ve got to be outside apartment 2.”
Scott’s main testimony also focused on Thompson’s shoes. He said Destromp’s major injuries were on the right side of his face. Blood-drop stains left on Destromp’s own right boot were consistent with that dripping. But no stains were found on Thompson’s shoes. He said a great deal of blood drops would have been expected on Thompson’s left shoe.
Scott’s testimony dovetailed with other evidence Thompson has presented while representing himself in court. He is trying to promote the possibility that Destromp’s neighbors, John Rubel next door and Jason Gray upstairs, had a motive and opportunity to kill Destromp.
Rubel acknowledged having an affair with Destromp’s girlfriend, and he said he was aware that she suffered physical abuse from Destromp. He said he ignored the domestic violence.
Gray testified that he was aware that Destromp was beating his girlfriend, Debra Bloss, and that he once confronted Destromp about his actions. That triggered an attack from Destromp that Gray said he deflected.
Both men denied under oath that they were involved in killing Destromp.
Thompson confessed to the police several times that he had beaten Destromp. One confession came in a 911 telephone call he placed right after the beating. Another was videotaped about 2 1/2 hours later. A third came 24 hours later.
Thompson has recanted the confessions. He now claims he passed out from excessive drinking in Destromp’s apartment, found the man dying and assumed he beat him up. He acknowledges that they argued earlier during a day of drinking.
He claimed the sober confession came after he convinced himself, while drunk, that he killed his friend. His blood-alcohol level at the time of the first videotaped confession was .274, or nearly three times the level considered intoxicated.
Thompson said he will take the stand in his own defense today. That is rare in murder trials. Making it even more strange, he won’t have an attorney posing questions since he is representing himself.
Prosecutor Parks has already stressed several times to Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart that she will battle to keep Thompson from offering an opinion or relying on hearsay.
Jury deliberations could begin as early as Tuesday.