Judge grants delay to homicide suspect
February 25, 2002
Russell Thompson convinced a judge Friday that he needs another expert witness and more time to prepare his defense against charges that he beat a friend to death in El Jebel last year.
But Thompson didn’t get the two rulings he coveted most. Eagle District Judge Richard Hart refused to lower Thompson’s bond from $70,000 to $35,000. The judge also rejected his motion to dismiss the case.
Thompson also failed to convince the judge that the Eagle County District Attorney’s office was withholding evidence that it was required to share as part of the discovery process.
The flurry of decisions came as the case headed toward its scheduled trial date of March 18. The trial will now start April 29.
Thompson, who is representing himself, waived his right to a speedy trial. He said he needs additional time to let a forensics expert piece together the defense’s version of how Timothy “Chico” Destromp was killed in an El Jebel apartment on Feb. 10, 2001.
Eagle County Sheriff’s investigators believe that Thompson beat his co-worker and friend to death when they got into an argument during a day of drinking. Thompson confessed to the killing the night of the homicide and the following day.
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He has recanted that confession and said in court Friday that it was nothing more than “drunken babble.”
Thompson’s defense hinges on the claim that he was too drunk to know what happened in Destromp’s apartment and that he made up the story for police. Thompson said his blood-alcohol reading was above .300 at the time of his arrest and confession. That is three times the level considered too intoxicated to drive in Colorado.
Thompson filed a motion Friday to add forensic toxicologist Dale Wingleth to his team of experts. He said Wingleth will testify about the human brain’s performance capabilities at different levels of intoxication.
Hart agreed that the state of Colorado, meaning taxpayers, would pay up to $2,500 for Wingleth’s services.
Thompson also filed a motion asking that the trial be postponed so his experts could have more time to work on the case. He claimed the delay was also necessary because the prosecutor in the case allegedly wasn’t working with his forensic expert and sharing photos he needed.
In fact, Thompson contended, the D.A.’s office had turned over pictures that were supposed to be the autopsy of Destromp but were actually another man. He also complained that authorities contend they don’t have any pictures that show Destromp as he was found – critical information for his forensic expert. Thompson said this would be the first murder investigation in history that excludes those photos.
“I feel like Barney Fife investigated this thing,” said Thompson.
Deputy District Attorney John Clune angrily refuted claims that he was hindering Thompson’s right to defend himself. He said his office has handed over more evidence as part of discovery than it is legally required. Thompson thinks he is entitled to more because he isn’t a lawyer and doesn’t know the rules of discovery, Clune charged.
“I’ve heard complaining from someone who is in a pretty desperate position and doesn’t have a lawyer to represent him,” Clune said. “I guess the old proxy of throw something against the wall and some of it will stick doesn’t hold true in this case.”
Clune explained that photos of the autopsy from another homicide case in Eagle County that happened at about the same time as Destromp’s beating were inadvertently included on a compact disk that was given to Thompson. The photos of the other man were in addition to Destromp’s autopsy photos, not in lieu of them.
Clune asked the judge to let the case proceed as scheduled with the trial on March 18. If Thompson’s experts aren’t prepared by then, the trial should go on without them, he said.
Clune said that Destromp’s family and friends are entitled to a speedy trial, as well. He said Thompson’s motion to have the case dismissed for alleged failure on the part of the D.A.’s office to hand over evidence wasn’t possible due to legal procedure. He said that request had to be made after the D.A. presents his evidence at trial.
“There are many people who will be surprised when they see the evidence presented at trial,” Clune vowed.
Thompson countered that the case should be dismissed because of lack of evidence.
“I would just ask that you stop this fiasco and that you stop it today,” he said.
Hart ruled that the D.A.’s office wasn’t guilty of any unreasonable delays in handing over evidence. He also said it was clear the case involved a “bloody death” and a “pretty convincing confession.” Therefore, there were grounds for the trial to proceed.
“We’ll find out what the truth is when it goes to trial,” the judge said.
Hart ruled that additional time would be needed for Thompson’s experts to prepare their reports and for the D.A. to review them.
The judge also ruled that a $70,000 bond would remain for Thompson. Clune argued that it should be $100,000 because Thompson is “an extreme flight risk.”
Thompson argued it should be reduced to $35,000.
Thompson was released Jan. 31 on $35,000 bail after spending 337 days in jail. However, he was arrested after three days for failing to report to a post-alcohol treatment program.
Hart said Thompson has a “persuasive” style of speaking and had convinced him to lower the bond to $35,000 – significantly lower than normally granted in a homicide case. The judge said it was clear that a condition of bond was that Thompson had to check in on weekends at the post-treatment program. It was clear that condition was violated.
“The best reading is that Mr. Thompson blew it off,” Hart said.
That warranted returning the bond amount to $70,000, he said, noting that amount “is low for this type of offense.”