Order gags Thompson in El Jebel homicide case
A homicide suspect who has talked extensively about his case to the media has been gagged by an Eagle County district judge.
Russell Thompson was ordered recently by Judge Richard Hart to refrain from further pretrial publicity. The gag order was sought by the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office.
While gag orders aren’t uncommon, this one was unusual because it was issued against a defendant in a case. Usually gag orders affect attorneys. They aren’t commonly sought against a person accused of a crime.
District Attorney Michael Goodbee said his staff was concerned about the ability to get a fair trial with an impartial jury if Thompson kept talking.
Thompson is representing himself in the case. He is accused of beating a friend to death at the friend’s apartment in El Jebel in February 2001.
Thompson allegedly got into a fight with Timothy “Chico” Destromp after an afternoon of drinking liquor and beer. Police and prosecutors claimed that Thompson hit Destromp so many times with his fist that he broke every bone in the man’s face.
Thompson called police from a neighboring residence and initially confessed to the beating. He hired public defender Elizabeth Espinosa but later fired her for what he claimed was ineffective representation.
After firing Espinosa, Thompson started talking to reporters. He recanted his confessions and said he was so intoxicated on the night of Destromp’s death that he convinced himself that he must have killed his friend.
Thompson said that once he started digging into the facts of the case, he was convinced that the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office performed a sloppy, incomplete investigation. He claimed that other potential suspects with possible motives for killing Destromp weren’t thoroughly investigated.
Thompson – when he could talk to the press – also tried to cast doubt about the case against him. He claimed that pictures of his hands taken at the time of his arrest don’t show cuts or swelling consistent with someone who had just beaten someone to death.
Thompson also noted that his clothes weren’t covered with blood even though much of Destromp’s apartment was covered with splatters.
Along with seeking a gag order, the district attorney’s office also sought but failed to get a change of venue in the case. Prosecutors argued that extensive coverage of Thompson’s arrest and his subsequent claims of innocence in The Aspen Times and other publications would make it difficult to seat an impartial jury in Eagle County.
The district attorney’s office wanted to move the trial to a different, undisclosed location. The judge denied the request.
The district attorney’s office has also been forced to change prosecutors for the Thompson case. Chief Deputy District Attorney John Clune is leaving the office Friday to start a private practice in Denver, according to Goodbee. The case has been reassigned to Deputy District Attorney Brenda Parks, who has handled felony prosecutions.
Goodbee said his office will miss Clune’s “institutional memory” of the case but that he was confident in Parks’ abilities.
The trial was rescheduled from July to September to give Parks additional time to prepare.
[ Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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