Jury: Thompson is guilty of manslaughter
September 25, 2002
A jury in Eagle convicted Russell Thompson of manslaughter last night for the beating death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp.
The jury deliberated for more than seven hours before rejecting Thompson’s claim that he had nothing to do with his friend’s death. However, the jury also rejected a request from Deputy District Attorney Brenda Parks to convict Thompson of the more serious charge of second-degree murder.
“Keep your chins up, it’s all right,” Thompson told a gathering of his supporters, including his mom, Patricia Helmbolt, and his sister, Dianne Young.
“Be strong,” a tearful Helmbolt told him.
“You be strong too,” Thompson responded.
The jury foreman declined comment and said the 12-member panel had decided not to discuss its findings with the media.
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Parks expressed no regrets over the jury’s conviction of Thompson on the lesser charge. “I think the jury did a good job,” she said.
Thompson, 39, is looking at a sentence of two to six years in prison. That range could be doubled if a judge finds “aggravating circumstances” such as a prior felony conviction. If he had been convicted of second-degree murder, he would have faced up to 48 years in prison.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.
Thompson was taken into custody immediately. He had been out of jail on $70,000 bail. Parks asked that the bond be raised to $500,000 because the conviction made Thompson a “greater flight risk.”
Thompson asked the judge to keep the bond amount the same. “Frankly we just can’t do it,” he said, and stressed he wouldn’t flee. “I don’t run. I don’t hide.”
Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart raised the bond amount to $250,000. “This is a new day and you do stand convicted of a horrible crime,” Hart said. He also noted that the crime followed a “frighteningly heinous series of events.”
Thompson was convicted of beating Destromp to death on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001. The two men, colleagues on a carpentry crew, spent the day drinking vodka, then got into a fight that night.
Testimony in the seven-day trial showed Destromp was hit up to 40 times in the face. Virtually all bones were broken in his face and he drowned on his blood when his airways collapsed.
The verdict came after a day of surprises. Thompson had said he planned to take the stand in his defense. He decided against it on Tuesday.
The jury was unexpectedly given the option of finding Thompson guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The District Attorney’s office had indicated that it would seek conviction only on second-degree murder.
Thompson told Judge Hart that he decided against testifying because of the limits that Parks successfully placed upon him through motions. He would have been allowed to comment on evidence presented during the trial, but he couldn’t offer opinions or comment on hearsay.
That distinction became a point of contention between Thompson and Parks during their closing arguments, or final statements to the jury. Parks made several objections during Thompson’s final statements. In their most tense exchange, he claimed she was just trying to disrupt the flow of his presentation.
Parks said she would be glad to let Thompson testify because she could then cross-examine him.
“I would like you to shut your pie hole is what I would like,” Thompson shot back.
In her closing statements, Parks claimed the evidence “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that Thompson “knowingly” killed Destromp. Thompson hit and kicked Destromp numerous times and knew that he was inflicting great pain, she claimed.
“He knew what he was doing,” Parks said. “I’m going to ask you to find him guilty of second-degree murder because that’s exactly what he did.”
She claimed that investigators with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation undertook the most thorough investigation possible. That was an apparent effort to deflect Thompson’s criticism that the investigation was incomplete and incompetent.
“We won’t know every detail because there were only two people in the apartment that night and one of them is dead,” she said.
Her closing arguments were mixed with snippets from videotaped confessions that Thompson provided to police the night of Destromp’s death and the following night. The jury heard Thompson say on the tapes that he hit the other man after Destromp started an altercation.
Parks asked the jury to find Thompson guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter only if she failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Thompson was guilty of second-degree murder.
In his closing statements, Thompson portrayed the prosecutor’s office as being more concerned with a conviction than digging up the truth. He claimed that he conducted the only viable investigation and that police were lackadaisical “because they had a drunk guy saying, ‘It must have been me.'”
“Sometimes they need to save you from yourself,” he said.
Thompson discounted his confessions by explaining that he was highly intoxicated, woke up to find the dying Destromp and figured he must have beaten up his friend because he assumed there hadn’t been anyone else in the apartment. After six months, he looked at the police evidence and came to the conclusion that other people had the opportunity and motive to kill Destromp.
He tried to convince the jury that the investigation was “slop” because it didn’t include rudimentary steps such as taking pictures of Destromp where he was found in a pool of blood, testing of fingerprints or preservation of bloody clothing in the apartment.
“I didn’t kill Timothy Destromp,” said Thompson. “I didn’t kill him at all. I’m guilty of being confused, drunk and scared ? that’s all.
“I deserve to go home.”
After the jury disagreed, Thompson indicated that he will work on an appeal of the case. He represented himself in this trial after firing the public defender.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]