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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Judge Fred Van Sickle

Buquet waives release argument

A man charged with sending a ricin-laced letter to a federal judge waived arguments today about why he should be released from jail pending charges.

Matthew R. Buquet, 38, wore shaded glasses and sported a long beard during his 2 p.m. appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

His attorneys, Andrea George and Amy Rubin, of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, indicated that they could argue for Buquet’s release at a later time.

“It’s too early,” George said after the hearing. Prosecutors will meet the attorneys in the next few days “which will be our first opportunity to know anything.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed, who was standing in for Stephanie Van Marter, confirmed that the search warrants, which were executed earlier this month at 1818 W. First Ave., remain sealed.

Buquet, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, but was adopted and raised by parents in Michigan, is a registered sex offender from a 1998 conviction for indecent liberties, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

In the current case, Buquet is charged with one count of mailing threatening communication to U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle.

The alleged threat was made in one of the two letters seized by U.S. Postal Service authorities during routine screening at a mail facility in Spokane on May 14.

Thompson appeals Zehm conviction

Just as he promised last week after the sentencing, the attorney for convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed notice today that he intends to appeal several aspects of the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle sentenced Thompson last week to 51 months in federal prison for using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation in 2006 with Otto Zehm. The mentally disabled janitor died two days after the struggle in which he suffered 13 baton strikes and several shocks with a Taser.

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich filed his notice today indicating that Thompson will challenge the decisions by Van Sickle to deny the motion for release pending appeal; his order refusing to dismiss the case; his refusal to order a new trial and several other rulings.

Thompson, 65, remains incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center – Sea Tac in Seattle, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Read previous coverage here.

Oreskovich gets another week to file

   The defense attorneys of former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. have blamed a faulty email program for missing the deadline last Friday to file any objections to the pre-sentence report that could become the last major legal battle prior to sentencing.

   Thompson was convicted on Nov. 2, 2011, of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation on March 18, 2006, with Otto Zehm. The original sentencing date of Jan. 27 has been delayed as attorneys continue to argue every aspect of the case.

   But on Sept. 21, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle set a deadline of 4 p.m. on Oct. 5 for both sides to file objections to the pre-sentence report.

   Federal prosecutors missed the deadline by about four-and-a-half hours, but did file its request Friday night asking that the judge to sentence Thompson to 10 years.

   The Spokesman-Review sent an e-mail to Oreskovich at 6:10 p.m. Friday asking whether he would file any arguments. He finally responded at 1:03 a.m. Saturday, writing: “I filed objections many months ago.”

   But on Monday, Oreskovich wrote in a pleading, under the penalty of perjury, that his office has been experiencing problems with its Microsoft Outlook program and as a result didn’t receive a notice of the pending deadline.

   “During the late-evening hours of Friday … I was checking my email when I came across an email from Spokesman Review reporter Tom Clouse he sent at 6:15 p.m. inquiring whether I would be filing any objection to the Presentence Report,” Oreskovich wrote. “This was the first I was aware that anything was due that day.”

   He then asked for a week extension to file those documents.

   On Wednesday, Judge Van Sickle ruled that because Oreskovich “demonstrated good cause for the relief requested,” he extended the deadline until noon on Friday.  

Encounter with jurors sparks debate

Buried in the transcripts unsealed last week of the secret jury hearings held by a federal judge in the Karl F. Thompson Jr. case, was an apparent chance encounter between the jury forewoman and the alternate juror.

Jury Forewoman Diane Riley said she was having an electrical problem at her Ellensburg home and called her utility company. That company sent Donald Finn, who was identified during jury selection, as a line worker who was later determined to be the alternate juror.

Finn told the judge he could find nothing wrong at Riley's home and he seemed to suggest that Riley made the call to give her a chance to convince him that the jury made the right call.

“I said, well, my feelings were it’s just, you know, just a big dog and pony show,” the alternate juror said. “The guy passed away at the scene, Karl had to pay for it. And I said that’s kind of the way I saw it.”

Riley said as soon as Finn recognized her, he started inquiriing about the jury's decision to convict Thompson of using excessive force and lying to investigators about his 2006 encounter with Otto Zehm.

“He started asking questions about it, and … he expressed then how he had been agitated and angry that the jury found Mr. Thompson guilty,” Riley said. “He felt the witnesses were fake, paid dog and pony show, and that he didn’t believe anything that any of them said.”

Riley said she told Finn that he was not part of the deliberations and all the discussions the jurors had. She added that she’d learned information from an author about alleged past transgressions by Thompson.

During the May 23 hearing, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle asked Riley about what the author told her. “Is this relevant?” she asked.

“I’m not trying to trick you. I’m really not. And you’re not in any way on the hot seat,” Van Sickle said. “I’m just trying to gather information, to be honest with you, and this is the right way to do it that I’m aware of.”

Read past coverage here.

Oreskovich: ‘I’m not Internet proficient’

By Thomas Clouse

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle didn’t have the kindest of responses Tuesday when a defense attorney representing Spokane police Office Karl F. Thompson, Jr. asked the judge to compel federal prosecutors to turn over the names, phone numbers and addresses of several witnesses who watched the confrontation with Otto Zehm (right).

Attorney Courtney Garcea, who is helping Carl Oreskovich represent Thompson, said she understood that the law does not require federal prosecutors to hand over that information, but that the matter did fall under the judge’s discretion.

“It is certainly reasonable that the United States be ordered to provide that information,” she said.

Van Sickle responded by saying that anyone who can operate a computer “would find this information within key strokes. Why can’t this be done by people working on behalf of the defense team?”

Garcea responded by saying the government has that information readily available and it would avoid the time necessary to find the addresses and phone numbers.

Van Sickle, who became more animated, said that information could have been found in the time it took Garcea to make the argument.

“I kind of scratch my head. Have you called the U.S. Attorney’s Office and asked for it?” he asked.

When Garcea replied no, he said: “Why didn’t you do it?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin said he would have responded to such a request by contacting the witnesses and inquiring whether they want to speak to the defense.

If so, he would have provided the information Garcea sought.

“It’s unfathomable to believe they don’t have the ability to track down the information,” Durkin said.

He pointed out that the Spokane Police Department took down every name, date of birth, address and phone number of the witnesses they interviewed at the convenience store on March 18, 2006, following the confrontation with Zehm who died two days later.

“They have a lot of resources and access to the information,” Durkin said. “This motion was designed to bog down the United States with briefings without any contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at all.”

Oreskovich then got up and apologized to the judge. He explained that he has been unable to locate six witnesses.

“I’m not Internet proficient,” Oreskovich said. “My apologies to this court that I didn’t write a letter saying I couldn’t find these particular witnesses.”

Van Sickle ended the discussion by saying: “I don’t think (finding) six people would be an onerous project.”

The exchange came during a hearing in which Van Sickle denied Oreskovich’s request to dismiss a lying charge against Thompson.

Read the story here

Zehm’s records released, not admissible yet

By Thomas Clouse

A federal judge ruled Thursday in favor of the city of Spokane and granted a motion brought by the attorneys for Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to obtain Otto Zehm’s mental health records from a 2000 stay at Eastern State Hospital.

However, U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said he will wait until later to determine whether Thompson gets to use those mental health records in his defense during the trial, which is currently set for June 2.

“Officer Thompson is entitled to offer evidence – including information which he was unaware at the time of the confrontation – as long as the evidence tends to make his version of the confrontation more probable,” Van Sickle wrote in part. “Information in Mr. Zehm’s psychiatric records arguably satisfies that standard.”

Thompson’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, last week argued that Zehm had been off his medication for paranoid schizophrenia for several weeks prior to his March 18, 2006, confrontation with Thompson. Therefore, Oreskovich said, Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor, was already exhibiting characteristics of “excited delirium” before Thompson confronted him.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Durkin argued that excited delirium is not a medically recognized term and only is used by police agencies to describe otherwise unexplainable deaths by persons when they are being taken into custody.

Durkin said Thursday that he could not discuss the case, and Oreskovich could not be reached late Thursday for comment.

“At this stage in the proceedings, the Court does not rule on the admissibility of the evidence sought by Officer Thompson,” Van Sickle wrote. “If, in fact, Mr. Zehm behaved in a defiant and aggressive manner on March 18, 2006, due to a lack of medication, Officer Thompson may have been justified in using force to subdue him.”

Past coverage: Thompson’s defense wants Zehm’s medical records

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