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For nearly a year, former Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. has avoided sentencing on his federal convictions for using excessive force in the beating of Otto Zehm and then lying to investigators about it.
But with yesterday's refusal by U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle to throw out the convictions and order a new trial, as Thompson's defense team had urged, the long-delayed sentencing hearing soon will be rescheduled for a new legal clash: what is the appropriate punishment for a decorated police officer who continues to insist he did nothing wrong even though a jury ruled otherwise?
Van Sickle agreed with Thompson's contention that prosecutors failed to turn over favorable information from a forensic videographer to the defense but the judge concluded the omission was so insignificant that it wouldn't have altered the outcome.
Here's a link to SR reporter Chelsea Bannach's article on Van Sickle's ruling. Bannach was filling in for SR reporter Thomas Clouse, who was on vacation when the ruling was issued.
Jurors in the excessive force trial of Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. apparently are bothered by the lack of information about Otto Zehm being allowed in the trial.
U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle disclosed today that he received a letter from the jury advising they want more information about Zehm, the schizophrenic janitor who died following a violent 2006 encounter with Spokane police officers after being mistakenly identified as a suspect in a possible theft.
Although the specific letter was not disclosed in court, Van Sickle said he wouldn't be granting the jury's request, specifically anything that would show Zehm had not committed a crime when he was confronted by police nor was he high on drugs as some had speculated. Van Sickle has barred any mention in front of jurors of Zehm's innocence or toxicology reports showing no illegal drugs in his system.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aine Ahmed pleaded with Van Sickle to essentially give the jury what it wants.
"Several witnesses have indicated that Mr. Zehm was high on drugs," Ahmed said. "The United States has to have some way of rebutting that besides just remaining silent."
Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told Van Sickle his earlier rulings should remain in place.
"We are at a point in the case where we are putting on our last day," Oreskovich said. "I understand the jurors have questions. But to put evidence in based on a juror question is inappropriate."