Jurors in the federal trial of Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson were instructed this morning to disregard any reference to Otto Zehm as a “robbery suspect.”
The move by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle came after prosecutors argued the door had opened for them to tell jurors that Zehm was innocent of the theft that brought Thompson to the fatal confrontation at a Zip Trip in Spokane on March 18, 2006, because store clerk Leroy Colvin had referred to Zehm as a robbery suspect.
Van Sickle also barred defense lawyers from asking any non-expert witnesses about a possible robbery.
The issue of whether jurors can know of Zehm's innocence was hotly debated in pre-trial motions that delayed the trial last year as federal prosecutors appealed to the 9th Circuit Van Sickle's ruling barring any mention of it.
The 9th Circuit sided with Van Sickle, who later rejected an attempt by prosecutors to split the trial to allow mention of Zehm's innocence when arguing that Thompson lied to investigators.