Murder trial opens with Thompson’s taped confession
September 18, 2002
Once a jury was finally seated in the second-degree murder trial of Russell Thompson Tuesday, members immediately saw snippets of a video in which Thompson coldly confessed to hitting Timothy “Chico” Destromp so many times in the face that he died.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Brenda Parks, wasted no time unveiling some of her best evidence. In the tape, Thompson says, “I hit him. I hit him again. I hit him again and again.”
It’s not only what he said in the videotaped confession that may be damaging, but how he said it. Thompson looks disheveled in the video and appears even a little cocky about what he did.
“I knew I hit him really hard,” he told an off-camera investigator. When asked how many punches he threw at Destromp, Thompson estimated 30 to 40, with most of them landing in the man’s face.
Only about a minute of the taped confession was played, but Parks milked it for effect.
“Russell Thompson won that day,” Parks told the jury. “He beat Timothy Destromp to death.”
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Thompson’s story changed in various confessions he gave in the 24 hours after the Feb. 10, 2001, homicide of Destromp, but one element always stays the same ? he always talks about landing punches in the face, Parks noted.
“I don’t know what Russell will say this time,” Parks said. “He’s already changed his story three times.”
In her opening statements to the jury, Parks said Thompson initially told investigators he couldn’t tolerate Destromp’s beating of his girlfriend anymore (see related story). He allegedly tried to justify his action by claiming that Destromp had attempted to kill Debra Bloss.
But Bloss wasn’t around the night of Destromp’s fatal beating. She had left days before and was located in Texas, Parks said.
“Why would somebody lie,” asked Parks while pressing the “play” button of a computer-operated videotape machine. “Do you know how much trouble I’m in,” Thompson declares on the tape of his confession. “I killed a man.”
Parks acknowledged that Thompson was highly intoxicated shortly after he was arrested on the night of Destromp’s beating. His blood-alcohol test registered above .200, twice the limit considered too intoxicated to drive. He was also intoxicated in the snippets of the taped confession she aired. But Parks said she will show another video of Thompson confessing after he sobered up.
In his opening statement, Thompson asked the jury to be patient and let him supply the “facts” of the case.
He said he believed himself for six months that he must be guilty of the violent crime, then he started digging into details and learned that other men allegedly had motives to kill Destromp. He promised to produce “several” pieces of evidence that will “surprise” the jury.
Once he learned that information by doing what he termed a more thorough job of investigating the case, he said it became clear to him that he wasn’t guilty as he presumed in his highly intoxicated state. The unearthed information explains his evolving story, he said.
“When you learn facts about your case, of course your story’s going to change,” said Thompson.
He acknowledged that based on the tape alone that Parks played, he would be found guilty of second-degree murder.
“I am not guilty of killing Timothy Destromp,” he said. “I am also aware that that’s hard to grasp right now.”
But Thompson said the prosecutor will only show evidence to fuel her case, not the entire picture. “I’m going to show you proof that you didn’t get the whole story,” he said.
Thompson has recanted his confessions. However, he admitted to the jury that he cannot recall every detail of what happened in Destromp’s apartment on Feb. 10, 2001.
“I wish I had the ability to explain what happened that night,” he said. He is gambling that he can convince the jury that the events unfolded the way he believes through his investigation.
Thompson, a 39-year-old construction worker, is representing himself. He fired his public defender when she attempted to arrange a plea bargain rather than plead him not guilty.
A legal adviser, a forensic expert and investigator were appointed to help Thompson. Their fees are covered by the state.
Parks will continue to outline the state’s case against Thompson today. Thompson will follow with his evidence in the later part of the week.
The clean-cut, well-spoken and well-dressed Thompson appearing before the jury provided a drastic contrast to his scruffy, intoxicated image in the videotaped confession.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]