Justice moves at a glacial pace in Thompson retrial
The man accused of beating a friend to death during a drunken brawl in El Jebel in February 2001 is going to have to wait until July to find out if his request for a new trial will stand.
Russell Thompson was convicted last September of beating Timothy “Chico” Destromp to death, and he was sentenced to nine years in prison in November.
But Thompson filed a motion for a new trial on grounds that the prosecutor in the case didn’t adequately inform him that two specific witnesses would be called to testify during the trial. He claimed that didn’t allow him to prepare a proper defense. Thompson was representing himself at the time.
Eagle County Judge Richard Hart overturned the conviction in January and granted Thompson’s motion for a new trial.
The district attorney’s office appealed the judge’s decision in the middle of March. Since then, the case has been moving at a glacial pace.
Hart scheduled a full day of motions hearings for Wednesday but he deferred a decision on the retrial issue and postponed hearings on other issues when the new prosecutor on the case, Philip Smith, said he wasn’t prepared to argue other motions.
The case has been plagued by a circus atmosphere since the beginning. Thompson initially hired a public defender then fired her. He claimed she wasn’t adequately defending him, and he claimed she was trying to arrange a plea bargain against his will.
Thompson represented himself in pretrial motions and during the trial and engaged in bitter disputes with the district attorney’s office over evidence.
A revolving door at the district attorney’s office has added to the confusion. One prosecutor quit right before the case was scheduled to go to trial, so it was handed off to someone new. That prosecutor left between the time Thompson was sentenced and his motion for retrial was granted.
Meanwhile, the public defender that Thompson fired resigned and took a new position, allowing him to rehire the office to represent him.
His new attorneys and the new prosecutor began arguing old points Wednesday that arose before the first trial. Thompson claims the district attorney’s office is withholding evidence; the prosecutor says Thompson is “confused.”
Smith also contended that if the retrial stands, it doesn’t allow pretrial motions such as whether evidence can be suppressed. It just means a new trial must be held.
Hart said he will rule July 9 on whether he should have granted Thompson a retrial and, if so, whether that entitles pretrial motions regarding evidence.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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