Juror: "Thompson was a good man who made a terrible decision"


by KREM.com & Honora Swanson


Posted on November 15, 2011 at 9:28 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 10:19 AM

SPOKANE— Karl Thompson is a good man who made a bad decision, according to the lead juror in the trial that found him guilty of using excessive force and lying to investigators in the beating of Otto Zehm. 

Diane Riley spoke for the first time Tuesday describing why the jury convicted the Spokane officer.

She says the Yakima jury worked hard to be fair and methodical during the trial.

Riley, who says she had no previous knowledge of the case, explained that the trial was emotional and draining for the jurors. She said the first day was spent taking turns discussing the information and absorbing the facts, and a verdict was not even discussed.

When they began digging into the trial, Riley says she knew there was more to the story regarding Zehm. Throughout the trial, jurors were told all about Officer Thompson and his career.  Jurors were left in the dark about details concerning Zehm because of a previous ruling that said certain details about him must be omitted from the trial, including the fact that he was mentally disabled.

One of the jurors submitted a note to the judge asking to know more about who Zehm was, but it was explained to the jury in court that those details would not be included.

When it came time to deliberate, Riley says the jury took in a great deal of information during the trial, but it was important to stick to the testimony and the facts as they knew them.

Riley says convicting Thompson of excessive force was not a question, and the 911 call had something to do with that. According to her, the jury clearly noticed the frantic feeling of the call diminish as it continued. It was mentioned that the girls who made the call might have gotten confused, and perhaps no money was ever taken. Jury members agreed that Thompson overreacted.

The question for them was the matter of lying to authorities. The jury requested to listen to a tape of Thompson’s questioning a second time during their deliberations. Riley says they wanted to see if the answers were manipulated or led on in any way. They eventually determined that while some of the questions may have sounded coerced, Thompson owned his responses.

Riley says the accusation of jury misconduct made her flabbergasted, as well as angry and disappointed. She says she could not wait to find out more about Zehm after the trial was over, but outside information did not play a role in the jury’s decision. 

The members of the jury all had “integrity, intelligence, and honesty,” according to Riley, and it made her sad when the defense went after the jury in that way.

Riley asserts there is no way a member of the jury heard of Zehm’s mental disability from a news source. She says the members of the jury were together the majority of the time, and that if anyone knew of Zehm’s condition, it would have undoubtedly come up in deliberations.

Riley admits, however, that the jury thought Zehm might have had a disability by looking at photos of him.

Despite feelings of anger, she says the attorneys handled the jury professionally during the trial, and she never felt pressured.

Riley was afraid she would be deemed a “cop hater,” but she insists that is not the case. She served in the military in the 1970s and says that she has respect for officers and appreciates their service.

Riley feels badly for Thompson because she believes he will pay for this for the rest of his life. She says she was left with sadness for the Zehm family, Thompson’s family, and the City of Spokane.

“Even though we found him guilty of the charges, we didn’t find him guilty of being a bad cop or an evil man,” Riley said.  “He just made some really bad judgments and must be held accountable for them.”

Riley stands by the jury’s decision.

“Mr. Thompson was a man just like Otto Zehm,” Riley said.  “Otto Zehm was taken from this Earth before he should have been because of the mistake and bad judgment of another man.”