September 22, 2012 in City

Judge sets Thompson sentencing for Nov. 15

Witnesses will be called; Zehm family may speak
By The Spokesman-Review
 

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Former Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. will finally be sentenced, more than a year after he was convicted of using excessive force and lying about his confrontation with Otto Zehm.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle on Friday reset the sentencing date to Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. for the decorated officer, following eight months of legal arguments by Thompson’s publicly funded defense attorneys seeking a new trial.

Thompson’s attorneys have vowed to appeal Van Sickle’s Tuesday decision refusing Thompson a new trial. That appeal is not expected to further delay the sentencing, which originally had been set for Jan. 27, 2012.

Defense attorney Courtney Garcea said the defense will file a motion seeking a sentence below the standard range. Thompson intends to call three to five witnesses on Nov. 15, she said.

As it currently stands, Thompson faces a standard range of 27 to 33 months in prison. However, the judge holds the discretion to send Thompson to prison for a longer or shorter period.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington said he expects to call three witnesses. Both sides predicted that the sentencing hearing will last all day.

Jeffry Finer, attorney for Zehm’s family and estate, asked Van Sickle whether the family would be allowed to speak or submit written statements. Van Sickle assured Finer the family would have that opportunity.

Van Sickle did not address release conditions. After the conviction, prosecutors sought to have Thompson detained because he was convicted of a violent crime.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hutton agreed and ordered Thompson into custody last November.

While Thompson spent one night in the Bonner County Jail, Van Sickle reversed Hutton’s order and allowed Thompson to remain out of jail pending sentencing.

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. 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 hogtied Zehm, put a plastic mask over his face and he soon stopped breathing. He never regained consciousness and died two days later.

A U.S. Department of Justice official later called the investigation and public comments by police officials part of an “extensive cover-up” and “violent abuse of power.”

Two other officers, Timothy Moses and Sandra McIntyre, both have received target letters from federal prosecutors indicating they intend to charge them with lying to investigators. But neither officer has been charged.

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