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Judge delays decision to query Thompson jury

A federal judge this morning delayed his ruling on whether jurors in the trial of a Spokane Police officer would be questioned about television reports that might have influenced their decision to convict Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.

Thompson’s defense attorney Carl Oreskovich contended that some jurors might have seen news of the trial, which concluded last week in Yakima, during breakfast in a common room at their Yakima hotel.

Thompson was convicted of using unreasonable force and lying to investigators in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle said he’s concerned about Oreskovich’s request to question jurors because of the “sanctity of deliberations.”

“That process is fundamentally secret because that’s how the system works,” Van Sickle said. “But if extraneous information was brought in, that is always a concern.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed said jurors are presumed to follow the judge’s instructions not to read, listen or watch news reports of the trial.

And, Ahmed said Oreskovich should have immediately brought up the matter before the jury made a decision.

To allow attorneys to question jurors without any specific information would “set a very dangerous precedent,” Ahmed said.

Oreskovich said his delay in reporting the alleged misconduct was not “strategic.”

“I don’t know what the government is afraid of,” Oreskovich told the judge. Questioning the jury is “needed so we can appropriately defend our client.”

Van Sickle gave the parties until 2 p.m. Thursday to gather all the information that was broadcast on the two televisions from the Oxford Suites in Yakima before he makes his final ruling.