Judges tosses conviction in El Jebel homicide
Russell Thompson’s manslaughter conviction for the February 2001 beating death of an El Jebel man was thrown out this week and his request for a new trial granted.
Judge Richard Hart of Eagle County District Court ruled Thompson wasn’t able to adequately prepare his defense for his September 2002 trial for second-degree murder.
Thompson alleged that “illegal evidence” was introduced in his trial by Deputy District Attorney Brenda Parks. He claimed Parks was allowed to call two expert witnesses to testify against him even though she failed to previously disclose they would take the stand.
The result, Thompson alleged in motions to the court, is that he couldn’t study what those experts would say in a process called discovery and he was unable to properly prepare to cross-examine them.
Thompson, who acted as his own attorney, and Parks were ordered by Hart to exchange lists of potential witnesses by June 24, Thompson’s motion stated. But Thompson claimed Parks didn’t supply the full list of witnesses by the deadline.
The deadline wasn’t enforced, and Parks was allowed to call two witnesses at the trial even though they were not on her original witness list. And without the testimony of those two witnesses, Thompson claimed, he might not have been convicted.
Hart, who presided over the trial, initially declined Thompson’s request for a new trial. However, he promised to review transcripts Thompson supplied to support his position.
Hart found on Wednesday that Thompson “was prejudiced” when the two expert witnesses were allowed to testify. Hart set another hearing for Monday to determine when the trial should be held and to reconsider the bond amount for Thompson.
For now, Thompson remains in Eagle County Jail.
Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. Hurlbert wasn’t in office at the time the Thompson case was tried. He was appointed as district attorney Dec. 20 after Michael Goodbee resigned to accept another job.
Parks no longer works in the Eagle County District Attorney’s office.
Thompson was sentenced to nine years in prison Sept. 23. He faced a charge of second-degree murder but a jury convicted him of the lesser charge of reckless manslaughter for the death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp.
Authorities claimed that Thompson and Destromp were drinking beer and Vodka at Destromp’s apartment on Valley Road in the El Jebel area when a fight broke out between them. Thompson was accused of hitting Destromp so many times with his fist that every bone in Destromp’s face was broken. He died in a pool of blood on his kitchen floor.
Thompson confessed several times to killing Destromp. The first confession came during a 911 call to police after he ran to a neighbor’s house, next in a videotaped interview he gave to police while still intoxicated, then in an interview after he sobered up.
Thompson later recanted the confessions. He said he was so drunk at Destromp’s house that he passed out and assumed when he came to that he was responsible for beating his friend. Thompson and Destromp worked on the same construction crew.
Thompson said that as he investigated his case further and looked at the evidence police collected and information they didn’t pursue, he concluded someone else entered Destromp’s apartment and beat him to death, while Thompson was passed out.
Thompson acted as his own attorney at his trial. He tried to show that Destromp’s neighbors didn’t like him and allegedly had a motive to kill him.
It is unknown at this point whether Thompson will represent himself again in a trial. Both Thompson and the district attorney’s office face major decisions in the case.
Hurlbert must decide whether to try Thompson for second-degree murder or reckless manslaughter.
If the second-degree murder charge is sought at trial, Thompson must decide whether or not the jury should be given the option of convicting him on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Thompson must also decide if he wants to be represented by the public defender’s office. He fired public defender Elizabeth Espinosa because he claimed she was inadequately defending him. Espinosa is no longer with the office.
Thompson and his family said they couldn’t afford to hire an attorney for his first trial. His sister, Diana Young, assisted Thompson in his defense, serving essentially as a law clerk. Other family members regularly attended court proceedings and expressed their confidence in his innocence.
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