Judge denies Karl Thompson a new trial




Posted on September 18, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 10:20 AM

SPOKANE-- A federal judge denied former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson a new trial on Tuesday.

A jury convicted Thompson last fall of "excessive force" in the death of Otto Zehm back in 2006. The same jury also convicted Thompson of lying to investigators.

Judge Fred Van Sickle spent almost three weeks looking at two motions by Thompson's defense for a new trial. On Tuesday the judge denied both of them. Thompson's sentencing date has not yet been set.

A large issue in the first motion concerned a claim that jurors had made up their minds before deliberations. Another claim was that the jurors may have been influenced by information seen on Northwest Cable News in their hotel lobby.   

The judge ordered some jurors be interviewed earlier this year to see if the claims were true. The interviews showed the claims were false.

The judge also ruled that allowing the verdicts to stand was not a serious miscarriage of justice.

The judge denied Thompson’s claim that the court allowed improper evidence of Zehm’s innocence, including the statement before he stopped breathing that ‘all he wanted was a snickers.’

The judge wrote, “Evidence that Mr. Zehm had innocent reasons for being in the convenience store did not distract the jury from its task.”

The second motion was focused around a video expert named Grant Fredericks.

Fredericks was originally hired by the City of Spokane to match the Zip Trip surveillance video with the 911 calls in the Otto Zehm incident.

However, prosecutors never called him to testify and the defense felt that Fredericks' testimony would help Thompson.

The judge ruled that the defense failed to show that Fredericks' evidence would have conclusively changed the jury's verdict.

Court documents state that, "There is a possibility the verdicts would have been different had the defendant known Mr. Fredericks' opinions. However, the United States presented substantial evidence in support of its allegations.  The possibility of a different outcome is not great enough to undermine confidence in the verdicts the jury rendered.  To the contrary, the verdicts are worthy of the public's confidence.  Consequently the Court will not vacate the jury's verdicts."

Federal prosecutor Michael Ormsby declined comment Monday. He did not want to jeopardize the sentencing or appeal phase of the case with any of his comments.

Thompson's attorney, Carl Oreskovich, told KREM 2 News that he will file an appeal at Thompson's sentencing.

Mayor David Condon released the following statement following the judge's ruling: “Our community has been waiting for this decision for a long time.  I am glad to see this case reach at least this conclusion, almost a year after the initial jury verdict.  We cannot change the past, but as a City, we have acknowledged mistakes in this case, and we’re moving forward for a better future.”

Breean Beggs, attorney for the Zehms, said the family is relieved about the judge’s decision.

“The criminal justice system worked. Even police officers can be held accountable to the constitution,” Beggs said.