Final pretrial conference, sides argue Zehm’s mental health relevance


by & Katie Utehs

Posted on September 29, 2011 at 3:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 29 at 5:42 PM

SPOKANE-- Attorneys made their final arguments at the pretrial conference Thursday before the Karl Thompson criminal trial starts.

Officer Karl Thompson was indicted in 2009 for the beating death of Otto Zehm. He's accused of depriving Zehm of his rights and falsifying the record of the incident.
Thompson's defense argues extensive media coverage will prejudice a jury pool in the Spokane area and is asking for a change in venue.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says the jury selection process will weed people out and that the defenses attorney Carl Oreskovich has done extensive interviews himself, only adding to the media coverage.

Presiding Judge Fred Van Sickle is determined to have Karl Thompson's criminal trial start on time, on October 11th.
In the final pretrial conference both sides argued the relevance of Zehm's mental health past.
Zehm was committed four times for schizophrenic episodes.
The U.S. Attorneys Office says Zehm's past history with mental illness has nothing to do with the fact that he was mentally slow and unable to respond quickly to officer commands.
The U.S. Attorneys Office says there are too many prejudices with schizophrenia therefore it should be excluded from the trial.
The defense argues the mental illness did play a role. They say Zehm was off his medication at the time of the confrontation with officers.
Another contested theory is ‘Excited Delirium’ a term used by a medical examiner to describe Zehm's death.
The defense says there is science to back the theory up and it partially explains how Zehm died.
The U.S. Attorneys Office says Zehm died from cardio pulmonary arrest and called ‘Excited Delirium’ a trash can theory saying it has no place in this case.
All of these issues have been covered extensively by local media.
If the judge does grant a change of venue it means outside jurors from Western Washington will be brought in.

The judge will rule on the issue of ‘Excited Delirium’, mental illness and a change of venue by the first part of next week.