Pivotal decision expected on murder trial evidence
September 17, 2002
A pivotal decision in the trial of a man accused of beating a friend to death in El Jebel will be made before a jury even starts hearing the case today.
A judge is scheduled to decide if Russell K. Thompson can present evidence that he contends is critical for his defense. Thompson, 39, is accused of second-degree murder for the beating death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp on Feb. 10, 2001.
Thompson wants to put Destromp’s former girlfriend, Debra Bloss, on the stand. He claimed in a hearing yesterday that her testimony could establish that other people had a motive to kill Destromp.
Prosecutor Brenda Parks is trying to prevent that information from reaching the jury. She said that testimony about Destromp’s allegedly abusive treatment of Bloss cannot be presented due to principles of law. In addition, she claimed it is irrelevant information.
Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart delayed ruling on Bloss’s testimony. He said he will listen to her testimony outside of earshot of the jury and then determine if her information can be presented as part of the trial.
@ATD Sub heds:Central theme for Thompson
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@ATD body copy: Thompson’s complicated defense depends heavily on getting Bloss before the jury.
In a nutshell, his defense is: He passed out while drinking with Destromp in Destromp’s tiny apartment in a ramshackle A-frame building on Valley Road; one or more men entered the apartment, got into a fight and killed Destromp; Thompson awoke to find Destromp on his dying breath and assumed he killed his friend; he discovered other information during his own investigation and recanted his confessions.
The motive for another person to kill Destromp was his treatment of Bloss, Thompson claimed.
Destromp was arrested twice by Pitkin County deputy sheriffs for domestic violence against Bloss, according to records obtained by The Aspen Times. In addition to the arrests, deputies were called to their former residence on Highway 133 south of Carbondale at least three times, records showed.
Friends and relatives of the couple said Destromp and Bloss would argue and fight when they drank, which was frequently.
Thompson claimed yesterday that Bloss will testify that the physical abuse against her continued when they moved to El Jebel. Destromp’s neighbors in two other apartments in the A-frame as well as in an adjacent A-frame were aware of Destromp’s treatment of Bloss, according to Thompson.
Some of those men were having affairs with Bloss and, therefore, were particularly concerned about her well-being, Thompson claimed.
Thompson wants to try to show that one or more of the men took action on the night of Feb. 10. He has subpoenaed Destromp’s immediate neighbors, Jason Gray and John Rubbel, to testify, as well as Victor Belloli, who lived in the adjacent A-frame about 100 yards away.
Belloli held a party the night of Destromp’s death, and at least one of the other men claimed he was there ? in the adjacent A-frame ? and didn’t hear or see anything suspicious.
@ATD Sub heds:Bloss testimony discounted
@ATD body copy: Prosecutor Parks said Bloss’s testimony would only prejudice the jury with information she claimed is inaccurate.
“We’ve spoken to these neighbors. They did not have affairs with this woman,” Parks said. “They did not go in and murder Mr. Destromp.”
Parks contended that raising issues about a victim’s past behavior is barred by law. She also claimed that allowing Bloss to testify would be unfair because her office hasn’t had an opportunity to question the woman even though they’ve had “every deputy in Eagle and Pitkin counties” looking for her.
She suggested that Thompson hasn’t shared Bloss’s whereabouts with the District Attorney’s Office. Thompson countered that Bloss is difficult to pin down and that the best he can do is try to guess where she hangs out.
He said he would try to have her before the judge today so Judge Hart could preview her testimony and rule on whether or not it is admissible.
Judge Hart said a victim’s past is ordinarily excluded from a trial but that, in this case, there may be relevance.
@ATD Sub heds:Prosecution’s case
@ATD body copy: The District Attorney’s Office is hinging its case on two confessions made by Thompson. Thompson left Destromp’s apartment on the night of the beating and called police from a neighbor’s telephone.
In a recording of that call, Thompson sounds distraught and tells a police dispatcher that he was afraid he might have killed his friend.
Thompson was arrested and taken into custody after making the call and peacefully surrendering. His blood-alcohol content was found to be higher than .20, or twice the amount considered too drunk to drive.
The following day, when he was more sober, Thompson gave another interview to authorities. In a video recording, he described how he beat Destromp up in a fight.
The District Attorney’s Office hasn’t disclosed what other evidence it possesses, and the judge has prohibited Parks and Thompson, who is representing himself, from talking further to the media.
However, Parks indicated to the judge Monday that she will expand on information that Thompson supplied in his testimony that he was a “semipro boxer.”
Jury selection will conclude today, and jurors will begin hearing the case. The trial is scheduled to last throughout the week.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]