Federal prosecutors asked a federal judge late today to sentence former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to 10 years in federal prison for using excessive force on Otto Zehm and lying to investigators about the confrontation.
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich did not file any further argument by 8:30 p.m. about why his client should be given leniency during sentencing, but his colleagues have previously indicated that they plan to argue for a lesser sentence.
As it currently stands, Thompson faces a standard range of 27 to 33 months in prison. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin wrote in court records today about several concerns prosecutors have with the presentence report that came up with that sentencing range.
Durkin said in court records that the probation officer who completed the presentence report only talked to witnesses provided by defense, “all of whom provided information favorable to” Thompson, Durkin wrote.
“It does not appear that the Probation Officer interviewed (former) Asst. Chief Jim Nicks or the Kootenai County Undersheriff who critically evaluated Defendant’s work and performance. Nor did Probation interview others having similar knowledge and favorable information about the victim, Mr. Zehm,” he wrote.
Thompson was convicted on Nov. 2 in a trial that was moved to Yakima because of intense media coverage in Spokane. The case followed a confrontation on March 18, 2006, in a convenience store, in which Spokane police officials initially blamed Zehm, a mentally delayed janitor who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, for lunging and attacking Thompson.
However, a video showed that Thompson immediately engaged the retreating Zehm and started striking him with a baton. Several other officers joined in the struggle. They hog-tied Zehm and put a plastic mask over his face, and he soon stopped breathing. He never regained consciousness and died two days later.
In previously filed arguments from January, Oreskovich wrote that he disagreed with the same presentence report because it does not give Thompson credit for taking responsibility for his crimes.
“While Defendant Thompson disagrees with the verdict, he appreciates and supports the role of the criminal justice system and respects the burden placed on the jury,” Oreskovich wrote. Thompson “has and continues to express remorse regarding Otto Zehm’s death and agrees that this case presents both a private and public tragedy.”
Oreskovich did not immediately respond to an interview request.
In most recent filing, Durkin also found fault with the presentence report’s characterizations of the evidence and said Thompson should be sentenced under the more stringent guidelines for aggravated assault because he used a deadly weapon and Zehm suffered great bodily harm.
Given Thompson’s “failure to meaningfully accept responsibility for his offense conduct, and his convictions for obstruction of justice and felonious assault … and the adverse impact he has had on the community’s view of other outstanding, hardworking, and honest law enforcement officers,” prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 120 months.
The arguments follow a decision on Sept. 18 where Judge Fred Van Sickle denied defense motions – including Oreskovich’s allegations of juror misconduct – seeking a new trial. In making his ruling, Van Sickle said, “The verdicts are worthy of the public’s confidence.”
The legal posturing has delayed sentencing that was originally set for Jan. 27. In the meantime, Thompson has remained free.
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