Five-year fight ends with six-year sentence
Russell K. Thompson was sentenced to six years in a state penitentiary Monday for the brutal beating death of a man in El Jebel more than five years ago.Thompson, 42, pleaded guilty in January to reckless manslaughter in the death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp. However, he said during a court hearing Monday that his plea was more the result of his inability to maintain the legal fight than an admission of guilt.During an emotional, 15-minute statement to Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart, Thompson concentrated on how the criminal charge has affected him.”It’s adversely affected my life for five years,” Thompson said. “The fact that there’s a guilty plea at all arises from the fact that I can’t do this anymore.”He said he doesn’t recognize himself in the mirror because he has aged so drastically in the past five years. He said his mother has suffered as only a mother can over the allegations he is facing.Thompson also expressed sorrow over Destromp’s death and acknowledged at one point that he might have played a role in the incident. He noted he was so drunk on the night Destromp died that he blacked out.”I was at least partially responsible for the death of my friend,” Thompson said, without clearly defining his possible responsibility. “I wish I had the answers because it haunts me,” he added.Investigators alleged Thompson and Destromp were drinking beer and vodka in Destromp’s El Jebel apartment during the day and into the evening on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001, when something triggered a vicious fight. Destromp was severely beaten. A coroner’s report indicted that virtually every bone in his face was broken.”He basically asphyxiated on his own blood,” Assistant District Attorney Karen Romeo said in court Monday. “Russell Thompson is responsible for his death.”Thompson broke down in court when he recalled cradling the bloodied Destromp during the last minutes of Destromp’s life. The men worked construction together and were drinking buddies.”I see him reaching out to me, judge. And the fact that I couldn’t help him,” Thompson said, struggling for breath and his voice breaking.Thompson said Destromp was trying to tell him something shortly before he died. Thompson decided to run and get help rather than stay by Destromp’s side – a decision he regrets.”He needed help, but he shouldn’t have died alone,” Thompson said while struggling to keep his composure. “I’m haunted by that.”Thompson initially confessed to the beating, then recanted. He was tried for second-degree murder, but a jury convicted him of the lesser charge of reckless manslaughter. Thompson was sentenced to nine years, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal.He was scheduled to be retried on the manslaughter charge in February but abruptly changed his plea to guilty.Thompson asked the judge for leniency. He said he and his family have already suffered for five years and he claimed he has stayed free of drugs and alcohol since his arrest (see related story). Thompson served some 14 months in jail and has been free on bond the remainder of the time since February 2001.”I would ask you, judge, please don’t send me away for a long time,” Thompson said.Romeo sought six years in the Department of Corrections, which means state prison time. Probation wasn’t appropriate in the case because a man died, she said. Romeo said the district attorney’s staff felt six years was the maximum sentence it could win if the case went to trial.Six of Thompson’s friends and family members also spoke at the hearing and sought leniency from Hart. The judge responded that while others could debate Thompson’s guilt or innocence, he could only work from the guilty plea that Thompson entered Jan. 26.Hart said that Thompson was “a pretty pathetic human being” when he first appeared before him in the case. He said he is a “much more satisfactory” person now.”I commend you for the changes you’ve made in your life,” Hart said.He handed down the six-year sentence and noted that Thompson would get credit for the time he already served. The judge calculated that to be 459 days.Romeo said after the hearing that her records indicated Thompson had spent closer to two years in county jail. She said that will be investigated and subtracted from his prison sentence.Romeo also elaborated on why the district attorney’s office sought six years rather than a longer sentence. She said if a jury had found Thompson guilty his sentence would have been between two and eight years. If the jury found there were aggravated circumstances, it could have doubled the sentence. But Romeo isn’t confident an appellate court would uphold an aggravated circumstances sentence based on current case law.So eight years would have been the maximum Thompson would have received. The district attorney’s office was willing to ask for six years because Thompson showed remorse for Destromp’s death and he claimed some level of responsibility, Romeo said.Six years out of a possible eight-year sentence is “pretty harsh,” Romeo said, and one supported by Destromp’s relatives. She said it was important to bring the issue to closure for the community.”We’re pretty pleased with the result,” she said.Thompson’s mother, Patricia Helmbolt, was sad for her son and disappointed in the justice system. “They beat him down. He couldn’t fight them any more,” she said.Thompson said he was relieved to have the issue resolved. “It’s what I had to do to get on with my life,” he said after the hearing. He predicted he will be out of prison in six or so months.Romeo said Thompson could be eligible for parole in 12 to 18 months. It depends on his credit for time served and his actions while in the Department of Corrections.Thompson remains out of jail on bond until June 11. He received the judge’s permission to stay out so he can attend his daughter’s high school graduation in Colorado Springs.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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