Videotaped confession shows sober defendant
September 22, 2002
A man accused of beating a friend to death in El Jebel last year appeared to make a good case in a videotaped confession for getting the charge reduced from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
The problem is, Russell Thompson has already rejected an offer for a plea agreement on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Thompson himself provided perhaps the most damaging testimony in the trial Friday, when the prosecutor showed the jury a videotaped confession Thompson supplied when he sobered up after the alleged beating. Thompson also confessed just a few hours after his arrest, when his blood-alcohol content was .275.
In a second confession almost a full day after the beating, a polite and contrite Thompson said he felt forced into a fight by Timothy “Chico” Destromp. He said during the 90-minute confession that he intended to win the fight but never dreamed it would end up costing the other man his life.
“I would do anything to have the last 24 hours of my life back,” said Thompson.
He acknowledged in the tape that he offered his testimony willingly. In fact, he noted that he should probably remain silent but figured it “behooved” him to cooperate with investigators.
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According to Thompson’s confession, he nodded off on Destromp’s couch after the men drank a substantial amount of vodka on a Saturday afternoon and evening. Suddenly Destromp was “screaming” about his girlfriend and accusing Thompson in a threatening manner of engaging in sexual relations with her. They started to “tussle,” and Thompson repeatedly yelled, “We don’t need to do this.”
In the heat of the moment, Thompson testified, he unleashed a barrage of punches that eventually forced Destromp to collapse in the kitchen of Destromp’s tiny apartment. Thompson fled to a neighbor’s home and called police.
“I didn’t know he was dead,” Thompson said. “I thought he just needed medical attention.”
Thompson directed police officers to the scene and surrendered without incident.
In the taped confession from jail after he sobered up, Thompson categorized the incident as “two drunk animals fighting each other.” It never should have escalated to such a degree, Thompson said. He repeatedly expressed remorse for what happened.
But Thompson also noted that Destromp instigated the confrontation and remained aggressive throughout the brief incident. It was a fight that ended with unintended consequences, he said.
Assuming the videotaped confession portrayed the truth, it seemed to make a case for manslaughter rather than the more serious second-degree murder charge that Thompson is facing.
However, Thompson rejected a proposal from the District Attorney’s office more than a year ago to plead guilty to the reduced charge. Instead he fired his public defender when she pressed for the plea bargain. Thompson is now representing himself in court.
The jury in the case can only rule on his guilt or innocence on the charge of second-degree murder. It cannot find him guilty of a lesser crime such as manslaughter.
Manslaughter carries a prison term of two to four years, according to District Attorney Mike Goodbee. If convicted of second-degree murder, the judge said the penalty would be eight to 24 years or 16 to 48 years under aggravated circumstances, such as a prior felony conviction or use of deadly weapons. The time hasn’t come for the prosecution to disclose if it would seek the stricter sentence.
Thompson has recanted his confessions and is trying to establish that another person or persons had the motive and opportunity to kill Destromp.