A judge has denied a request by former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson’s attorneys to interview the jurors who convicted Thompson last month of two felonies in connection with the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.
U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said in a 10-page order filed Tuesday that no evidence exists to support the request, which lawyers Carl Oreskovich and Courtney Garcea said underpinned their effort to have the case retried. “The Court repeatedly instructed jurors to ignore media accounts of the trial,” Van Sickle said. “Thus, to the extent jurors were exposed to such accounts, the Court is satisfied they ignored them.”
The lawyers had asked to question the 12 jurors about possible extraneous information considered during trial, citing the fact that two jurors were exposed to a newscast at a Yakima hotel that contained prejudicial information about the case. Garcea said she observed jurors in eyesight of the newscast on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, but she didn’t tell the court until after Thompson was convicted.
Van Sickle noted Garcea’s delay when denying the motion to question jurors.
Had the lawyers alerted him to the exposure at the time, Van Sickle said he “could have made inquiries and taken appropriate corrective action.”
“As it was, the Court repeatedly admonished jurors to ignore media reports concerning the trial in the event they encountered them,” Van Sickle said. “Again, the presumption is that jurors followed those instructions.”
Jurors requested more information about Zehm during trial, but Van Sickle said he responded that additional information had been excluded before trial. “Presumably, the jurors respected this explanation and did not attempt to circumvent the Court’s prior rulings,” he wrote.
Defense lawyers also cited an email from an alternate juror who disagreed with the verdict. The note mentions nothing about jurors being exposed to outside information.
“Given the absence of any such indication, the email does not support the defendant’s request for juror interviews,” Van Sickle wrote.
Lawyers also cited jury forewoman Diane Riley’s statements to The Spokesman-Review that a juror knew someone who lived in Spokane and said politics here are “corrupt and dirty.”
Van Sickle said the statement is of some concern but “must be read with caution.”
He pointed to Riley’s interview with KREM2 News in which she said a juror lived in Spokane 15 to 20 years ago and said that “Spokane politics is kind of corruptive.”
“Neither here nor anywhere else in the interview did the presiding juror say that one of the other jurors has an acquaintance in Spokane, much less that the other juror learned something from the acquaintance and shared it with the jury as a whole,” Van Sickle wrote. “Rather, the presiding juror said that one of the other jurors lived in Spokane many years ago and that she formed certain unfavorable impressions concerning Spokane politics as a result of her experiences there.”
Thompson’s lawyers have until Dec. 14 to file a motion requesting a new trial. Thompson, who resigned from the Spokane Police Department last month in lieu of being fired, faces about eight years in federal prison when he’s sentenced on charges of lying to investigators and violating Zehm’s rights by using excessive force during the March 18, 2006, confrontation at a North Division Street Zip Trip.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 27.