November 9, 2011 in City

Judge delays decision on questioning Thompson jury

Defense alleges TV news exposure
By The Spokesman-Review
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Background and the latest updates

Employment hearing

Karl Thompson remains on the city payroll despite paperwork that began last week to terminate him.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said a pre-termination hearing – called a Loudermill interview after the court case that established the precedent – will be conducted next week. Such a hearing gives an employee who’s being fired the opportunity to present their position on the planned termination.

Thompson used paid vacation leave to attend the four-week trial in Yakima, she said.

A federal judge on Tuesday delayed ruling on whether jurors in the trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. would be questioned about television reports that might have influenced their decision to convict him.

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 2006 beating of Otto Zehm, who died two days later.

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 argued that jurors are presumed to follow the judge’s instructions not to read, listen or watch news reports of the trial.

Ahmed added that Oreskovich should have immediately brought up the matter before the jury made a decision to convict Thompson.

To allow attorneys to question jurors without specific information that there was misconduct 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.

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