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Thompson pleads guilty

Nearly five years to the day that Timothy “Chico” Destromp was beaten to death in his El Jebel apartment, Russell K. Thompson has admitted guilt in the case.Thompson recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter rather than face trial for the second time for the savage beating. A six-day trial had been scheduled to start today in Eagle County District Court. Instead, Thompson will be sentenced March 20.”It certainly was a long process, but I definitely think justice will be served at the sentencing,” said Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. He said Thompson pleaded guilty to the most severe charge he could have been tried for.Hurlbert said his office agreed not to seek a sentence of more than six years in prison. Thompson, 42, was eligible for a maximum sentence of eight years. He will receive credit for more than one year he has already spent in Eagle County Jail.Thompson has vehemently maintained his innocence in the case for most of the last five years. He represented himself in his first trial, in September 2002, and in scores of hearings since. He and prosecutors often engaged in acerbic battles of wits and sometimes shouting matches.He was charged with second-degree murder, but a jury convicted him of the lesser charge of manslaughter. A judge tossed out that conviction after Thompson argued that the prosecutor handling the case at that time didn’t properly disclose in advance the evidence she would use at the trial.Hurlbert said he didn’t know why Thompson changed his plea. Thompson couldn’t be reached for comment. He lives and works in Colorado Springs.Drinking session turns violentDestromp and Thompson worked construction together and were often drinking buddies, according to testimony at the first trial. They were drinking beer and vodka in Destromp’s apartment on Valley Road, across from Crown Mountain Park, on the night of Feb. 10, 2001, when, police allege, an argument broke out and escalated into a fistfight.Investigators charged that Thompson, who had boxing experience, quickly overmatched Destromp. Thompson allegedly hit Destromp repeatedly in the face. A pathologist testified that virtually every bone in Destromp’s face was broken. He suffocated after his nasal passages collapsed. Investigators testified the apartment was splattered with blood.Thompson called 911 from a neighboring residence and confessed multiple times to beating Destromp. A chilling video confession was played at the trial. Thompson calmly described how he kept hitting his friend.But Thompson soon recanted and claimed he had passed out in the apartment, awoke to find his friend beaten and clinging to life, and assumed he was responsible. His blood-alcohol concentration was 0.275, or more than three times the legal driving limit. Destromp had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.416.Thompson said he was still drunk when he gave the confessions.In his defense at the trial and at other hearings, Thompson contended that the police didn’t conduct a thorough investigation because it appeared to be a cut-and-dried case. Thompson presented an alternative theory that one or more of his neighbors beat Destromp because of his alleged physical abuse of his girlfriend.Prosecutors and police never addressed questions he raised in the trial about the origins of a trail of blood that led to an apartment above Destromp’s. Thompson claimed that trail of blood, related footprints (which weren’t his) and other evidence suggested someone else was involved in the fight.No Perry Mason trialThompson represented himself because he made too much money to be eligible for a public defender, and he said he couldn’t afford a private attorney.Although he was eloquent, his case appeared to suffer because he wasn’t familiar with points of law. Thompson wanted the trial to flow like those on “Perry Mason” and other television shows, where there is a discussion of all potentially relevant information.While he was able to present a substantial amount of his evidence at the first trial, the two prosecutors handling the case since then tried harder to limit what qualified as evidence for a second trial and what was simply conjecture. Much of what he was allowed to use in the first trial was restricted in pretrial hearings before the second trial. That added to Thompson’s frustration. He said on several occasions that he felt he was in a fight where the rules were stacked in favor of the establishment and that getting to the “truth” wasn’t necessarily the point of the hearings.Hurlbert said the case was strange for a variety of reasons, foremost because homicides are rare in Eagle County. The case was also notable for the brutality of the beating and the length of time necessary for resolution.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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