Thompson case sees expanded gag order
A judge tried to kill an Aspen Times article yesterday by declaring that the sister of a man accused of fatally beating a friend in El Jebel in February 2001 couldn’t talk to the press.
Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart ruled that a gag order that had been placed on the attorneys and the defendant, Russell Thompson, also applied to Thompson’s sister, Diana “Deedee” Young.
The ruling came in a roundabout way after a new prosecutor in the case, Phil Smith, asked the judge to clarify a gag order issued last year by Eagle County Court Judge Terry Diem.
Diem ruled in July 2002 that Thompson shouldn’t be allowed to talk to the press because pretrial publicity could potentially taint a jury. Thompson, who was representing himself at the time, had talked extensively to the press about his alleged innocence.
The gag order was sought by the district attorney’s office, and it applied to the prosecutors as well.
The order was in effect through Thompson’s conviction by a jury on Sept. 24 of manslaughter for the beating death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp. Hart threw out the conviction on Jan. 22 and ordered a new trial. At that time he extended the gag order.
Smith inherited the case for the district attorney’s office just weeks ago. He is the third prosecutor to handle the Thompson case due to turnover in the office. Smith explained to the judge that because he came in “at the 11th hour” he needed the gag order interpreted.
At Young’s request, an Aspen Times representative asked if the gag order affected Young’s ability to talk to the press. Hart initially said no. But when Young pressed for further explanation, Smith asked that the order be applied to anyone potentially involved in the case.
Hart determined that the gag order should apply to Young because her comments could potentially affect a jury.
Violating a gag order can result in a contempt of court charge, which is punishable by a fine, jail time or both.
The Aspen Times was working on a story about how Young has steadfastly maintained her brother’s innocence and has put in countless hours and substantial funds to help with his defense.
Young helped with legal research that a source familiar with the case said matched the abilities of a good legal secretary. She sat with Thompson through his first trial and offered advice and retrieved documents he needed for court proceedings.
Before the gag order was applied to her, Young said she missed so many days of work while attending hearings and the trial that she lost her job. She worked for an accounting firm in the Colorado Springs area.
Although a lot of Thompson’s legal expenses were paid by the state, Young’s family paid for items that weren’t covered. Thompson is also living at her family’s home while he is awaiting trial.
Thompson is now being represented by the public defender’s office.
Young said before the gag order was applied that the cost of mounting a good defense had cost her family enough that her truck had been repossessed and her house was threatened. Nevertheless, she remains her brother’s biggest supporter.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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