July 8, 2010 in City

Attorneys seek earlier trial in Zehm case

Lawyers hope for expedited review by 9th Circuit Court
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The attorneys for the estate of Otto Zehm have asked a federal judge to set an earlier date for the criminal trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.

Jeffry Finer, who represents Zehm’s estate, said federal criminal law allows the victim to be heard on a few matters.

“One is unusual delay,” Finer said. “This was the right time to come forward to ask for alternative dates if the 9th Circuit does do an expedited review. It’s a long shot, but I’m hopeful.”

A hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today before U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle.

Thompson’s trial was originally set to begin on June 7. But with the jury waiting in another room, federal prosecutors informed Van Sickle that they intended to appeal his decision barring the presentation of evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Victor Boutros, a trial lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, asked Van Sickle to reset the trial in August to give federal appellate judges more incentive to quickly consider the appeal.

But Van Sickle instead set the trial for March 7, which is almost five years after Zehm was confronted by Thompson following a report by two women who erroneously claimed Zehm had taken their money from a cash machine on March 18, 2006. Thompson struck Zehm with a baton, shocked him with a Taser and several other officers hogtied Zehm for about 17 minutes until he stopped breathing. Zehm, a 36-year-old janitor with paranoid schizophrenia, never regained consciousness and died two days later.

In June 2009, a federal grand jury indicted Thompson on felony charges of using excessive force and lying to investigators. As the criminal case proceeds, a civil case against Thompson has been put on hold.

Thompson’s defense attorney, Carl Oreskovich, said he generally supports Finer’s attempt to move up the trial date.

“I’m all in favor of doing this sooner rather than later,” he said. “But I do have a concern about the time the 9th Circuit needs to resolve this appeal and making sure we have adequate time to prepare for trial. If that can be accomplished … we are in favor of an earlier trial date.”


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