Judge relocates trial, restricts wording in Otto Zehm trial


by KREM.com & Katie Utehs


Posted on October 4, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 6 at 6:52 PM

SPOKANE  -- The federal obstruction of justice trial of Spokane police officer Karl F. Thompson will be moved to Yakima because of intense publicity in the five-year-old case.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled Tuesday the jury pool for the trial will not include people from Spokane.

There was a possibility the decision to hold the trial in Yakima would be overturned, but the judge ruled Thursday that it will remain there. The U.S. Attorney’s Office argues that it would be a huge financial burden to have more than 100 witnesses travel to Yakima, but the judge says it’s more unreasonable to expect a jury from as far away as Klickitat County to make the trip to Spokane.

The judge called it a change of location, but a Yakima trial ensures it will remain in the Eastern District.

The defense asked for a two day delay to prepare, but the judge granted one day.

Thompson is charged with using unreasonable force and lying to investigators following a 2006 confrontation with 36-year-old Otto Zehm at a convenience store. The mentally disabled man was beaten repeatedly and hog-tied by police, despite committing no crime. He died two days later.

The judge told the government they cannot file anymore motions unless they demonstrate good cause.

In addition, the judge instructed attorneys on wording they may use when talking about Officer Thompson’s weapon during the trial.  They must refer to the weapon as a wooden baton and not an ironwood baton.

Assistant Chief Jim Nicks will be allowed to testify, but cannot comment on whether or not Zehm was innocent when Officer Thompson approached him.  The defense argued the term “innocent” would influence the jury.

Jury selection and the trial will begin on Wednesday, October 12. The trial will be aired on closed-circuit televison because members of Zehm's family are too ill to travel.