October 12, 2011 in City

Jurors picked; Thompson trial under way

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

Karl F. Thompson Jr., center, a Spokane police officer facing charges of lying to investigators and using excessive force in the Otto Zehm case arrives with his legal team at the William O. Douglas Federal Building for jury selection in his trial, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, in Yakima, Wash.
(Full-size photo)

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YAKIMA – The jurors who will decide the fate of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. have careers ranging from scientist to waste water worker.

The panel includes eight men, four women, and includes a person from Taiwan, two Hispanics and a former long-haul trucker turned corporate manager.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys also selected two women and a man to serve as alternates in case any of the 12 can’t continue during the trial, which could last five weeks or more.

“This is kind of unique,” defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told the jurors. “We have a police officer on one side and federal police officers on the other side. There is going to be some violence that you will see.”

The trial has begun more than five years after Thompson confronted 36-year-old Otto Zehm in a Spokane convenience store, in response to an erroneous call that Zehm had stolen money from an ATM. Thompson is charged with using excessive force and lying to investigators.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin with opening arguments at 9 a.m. Thursday followed by the first witnesses for the prosecution, including FBI special agent Lisa Jangaard and a man who witnessed the incident inside the Zip Trip at 1712 N. Division St.

The attorneys cautioned jurors that they will see autopsy photos and a video of Thompson beating Zehm with a baton. One potential juror was excused because she said she cannot stand the sight of blood; three others were let go after they said they had learned of the incident through media accounts and had already formed opinions about Thompson’s actions on March 18, 2006.

Thompson was the first of seven officers who responded that night and struggled and shocked Zehm with a Taser. They eventually hogtied Zehm and placed a mask over his face. After two officers applied downward pressure on Zehm’s chest for a few minutes, they noticed he wasn’t breathing, according to court records. Zehm never regained consciouness and died two days later.

One potential juror began to cry and told U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle that she didn’t know the allegations included Zehm’s death.

“There is no accusation that (Thompson’s) conduct resulted in the death of Mr. Zehm,” Van Sickle told the juror, who was not picked.

The day ended with a late request by the defense to prevent the federal prosecutors from showing evidence that Zehm had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system. Judge Van Sickle already ruled that prosecutors could not tell jurors that Zehm had not committed a crime on the night of the incident.

“This is the government’s attempt to get in evidence of quote-unquote innocence,” attorney Steven Lamberson said. “It’s irrelevant because Officer Thompson didn’t have this information.”

Victor Boutros, a trial attorney from the Department of Justice, said the information is relevant because of allegations made by dispatchers and the two women reporting the alleged crime that Zehm was acting high.

Van Sickle first decided to allow the evidence but then gave the defense an opening and ordered the attorneys to file briefs late Wednesday that he would consider Thursday morning.

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