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Clark: Van-Tastic decision takes load off for Team Otto

Everyone snap to attention.

Please click your heels together as we offer an SPD-worthy salute to U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle.

The judge on Tuesday unveiled a 10-page response to lawyers wanting to grill those jurors who last month found former Spokane police officer Karl Thompson guilty of felonies stemming from the 2006 beating (and subsequent death) of Otto Zehm.

To paraphrase:

No soap, shysters!

Van Sickle ruled that there is NO (non, nada, nyet …) evidence to merit such a request.

It’s a major setback for Team Thompson.

Being able to conduct such a witch hunt could help advance the fiction that some jurors could have been swayed by information televised prior to the conviction.

Which would pave the way for a retrial, of course.

“The Court repeatedly instructed jurors to ignore media accounts of the trial,” reasoned Van Sickle. “Thus, to the extent jurors were exposed to such accounts, the Court is satisfied they ignored them.”

Judge Van-Tastic is rising to the top of the Clark Column Christmas Card List.

Never fear, however.

If anyone thinks Team Thompson won’t make the Dec. 14 filing deadline for a new trial, well, I have some oceanfront property in Hillyard for sale.

Even so, Van Sickle’s decision puts the odds of a Yakima sequel on a par with me being a first-round selection in the next NFL draft.

There’s only one date worth thinking about, and that’s Jan. 27.

On that day Thompson is to be sentenced for what he did to the innocent and mentally ill janitor five-plus years ago in a Spokane convenience store.

For those of you who have just returned from a lengthy space voyage …

Zehm was in a North Division Zip Trip shopping for junk food and unaware he had been mistakenly reported as a possible thief by two young women at an ATM.

Thompson caught the call. As the store video shows, the veteran officer charged into the store like he was raiding one of Al Capone’s gin-laden warehouses.

Thompson began beating the confused man with a baton practically from the moment he caught up to him.

Zehm was clubbed, shocked and eventually hog-tied. He died two days later.

It took a federal indictment and a lengthy Yakima trial to get to the truth. On Nov. 2, the jurors ended their deliberating and dropped the “G” bombs on Thompson.

Guilty for beating the unarmed man.

Guilty for lying about what he had done.

Since then I’ve nervously awaited a ruling on this nonsense about the jury. Can’t help it. Strange things have been known to happen in that netherworld we call the judicial system.

But I found it quite telling that Team Thompson member Courtney Garcea claimed she saw jurors within eyesight of TV airing news that contained prejudicial information about the trial.

Did she report it to the court?


She held off – until after the conviction.

Hmm. A cynical person might proffer that Garcea may have been trying to have it both ways.

This hypocrisy didn’t pass the judge’s sniff test, either, as our news account reported.

“Had the lawyers alerted him to the exposure at the time, Van Sickle said, he ‘could have made inquiries and taken appropriate corrective action.’ ”

Nice try, Courtney.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be criminal defense lawyers.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or