A federal judge ruled again Monday that government prosecutors provided enough evidence to allow a jury to convict former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of using excessive force resulting in the death of Otto Zehm.
As he did during a four-week trial in Yakima, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle denied a request by defense attorneys who argued that federal prosecutors failed to provide evidence showing that Thompson acted willfully or with a bad purpose when he beat Zehm with a baton and shocked him with a Taser.
A jury convicted Thompson on Nov. 2 of using unreasonable force and lying to investigators to cover up his actions during the confrontation on March 18, 2006, from which Zehm later died.
“To sustain the conviction, the government had to prove willfulness” and “intent to act with a bad or evil purpose,” defense attorney Carl Oreskovich said. “The act was proven, but there was no evidence whatsoever of bad or evil purpose.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin countered that willfulness in such cases most often is proven by circumstantial evidence. “Rarely do you have a statement” of intent, he said. “The circumstantial evidence … in this case is significant.”
Van Sickle agreed.
“I find sufficient evidence that a rational jury could find all the elements” of the excessive force charge, Van Sickle said. “The motion is denied.”
Following the brief hearing, Thompson and his attorneys, Oreskovich, Steve Lamberson and Courtney Garcea, all declined comment.
Zehm’s uncle, Dale Zehm, said: “The system is still working. Everything is going as we hoped it would go.”
Thompson is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27, but Oreskovich is expected to file a motion Friday asking Van Sickle to order a new trial.