Accused killer makes case for innocence
Like a lot of people charged with murder, Russell Thompson claims he’s innocent. But Thompson says he has the proof to back his claim.
Thompson, 38, who lived in Glenwood Springs, was arrested Feb. 10, 2001, for killing Timothy “Chico” Destromp, 44, of El Jebel.
Authorities charge that after an evening of heavy drinking, the two fought and Thompson beat Destromp to death. While in a drunken stupor, Thompson as much as confessed to killing his friend after walking to a nearby neighbor’s house and telling a 911 operator that he thought he killed his friend.
He was arrested by Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies, gave a videotaped statement indicating he killed Destromp, and subsequently was charged with second-degree murder.
But since that time, Thompson claims to have found evidence that he didn’t kill Destromp. Evidence, he says, that chief deputy 5th District Attorney John Clune of Eagle County, the prosecutor for the case, refuses to acknowledge.
“This is my life and I would think they would care about getting to the guts of this thing,” he said in an interview at the Eagle County Jail.
“It’s an atrocity that I’m here, and I can’t believe they wouldn’t do things just because it’s the right thing to do,” he added.
Clune, however, insists that the evidence points to Thompson but said he can’t talk about specifics.
“This is kind of an interesting situation. I’m not allowed to comment,” he said. “He doesn’t have an attorney so he can say whatever he wants.”
Thompson fired his court-appointed public defender, Elizabeth Espinosa, last summer, and has since been representing himself with the help of an investigator and a legal adviser. It is since then that he noticed many aspects of the prosecution’s case don’t make sense.
“I didn’t do this, and I think I’ve done a superb job in accumulating evidence that I didn’t do it,” he said.
His main assertion is that after the phone call to 911, Eagle County sheriff’s deputies performed a sub-par investigation because they thought they had their man.
“I didn’t do this, but I jumped to a conclusion as soon as they did,” he said.
A major stumbling block, however, is that Thompson was so drunk on the night of the killing, he remembers next to nothing. He insists that despite his blackout, the evidence speaks for itself.
The first discrepancy Thompson pointed out was on Destromp’s body itself. The prosecution alleges Thompson beat Destromp to death with his hands. Thompson, however, pointed out what could be hammer claw and head marks on the body.
“We gave the authorities what we believe is the murder weapon,” Thompson said. “We think we can prove this hammer was partially responsible for some of the injuries.”
He said investigators have refused to consider the hammer as evidence. That hammer is now undergoing forensic testing.
In another alleged incongruity, Thompson said in the investigators’ film of the murder scene, a tool belt is shown with the hammer missing. Days later, the hammer was back and was picked up by Destromp’s sister. The woman has since given the hammer and tool belt to Thompson’s investigator.
Clune said he couldn’t comment on such specific claims now, but vowed to answer these claims at trial.
“I’ve continued to address all the issues as they’re brought up in court,” he said. “My obligation is I absolutely will respond to all of his assertions and allegations at trial.”
After several delays, Thompson’s trial is now set for April 29.
Clune explained that his responsibility at this point is to keep the potential jury pool from seeing evidence before the trial starts.
“A lot of these issues have been talked about at length in court,” Clune said.
Another disparity pointed out by Thompson is that there were two types of blood found in the upstairs apartment, but he says neither match his. And the footprints leading up to the apartment didn’t match Thompson’s size or tread pattern.
Also, Thompson said DNA found underneath Destromp’s fingernails doesn’t match his own.
“The only tracks of mine go directly from the front door to where I called 911,” he said.
Thompson also pointed out the tremendous damage to Destromp’s body – he suffered severe facial and head injuries, including losing all of his top front teeth – and pictures of the kitchen showing it absolutely covered in blood.
He then pulled out pictures of himself taken by police shortly after his arrest. His hands were largely unscathed and he had no other injuries. Also, while there was some blood on Thompson, he said he was far from covered.
Also, Destromp’s hands were severely cut up and looked as though he made contact with some punches.
“My only injury was a small abrasion on my right middle finger knuckle,” he said.
The blood on Thompson, he thinks, was from when he scooped Destromp off the floor and cradled him as he was dying.
“The only blood was from cradling him,” he said. “The point is, I was not injured at all.”
Thompson also has asked investigators for photographs of Destromp’s body at the scene, but has received just one, a picture showing just an arm and a leg. He charges that investigators are withholding other pictures.
In a report prepared by Max Scott, a forensic scientist with Forensic Trio Inc., Scott also expressed suspicion that Clune is withholding evidence.
“Clune has not complied with the discovery request,” the report said. “There are at least 70 photos missing AND there are no full body photos of the decedent in situ at the scene. Clune is hiding something, either a police blunder or exculpatory evidence.”
But both Clune and Eagle County district attorney Mike Goodbee insist there has been nothing withheld.
“The court has made no finding of any discovery violations,” Clune said.
In another photo-related inconsistency, Thompson said investigators gave him pictures of a severely injured man, telling him it was Destromp.
But upon close investigation, it clearly isn’t him. The man has a tattoo on his right shoulder, and while he has a severely injured eye, Destromp didn’t have such a tattoo and his opposite eye was injured.
Clune declined to respond to that allegation, saying he wasn’t directly involved in giving Thompson those pictures.
“He should bring these things up in front of the judge, not in the court of public opinion,” Clune said.
Other inconsistencies and new pieces of evidence should at least be investigated, Thompson asserts.
“I don’t blame them for arresting me initially, but I do blame them because within hours they knew the truth,” he said. “I think they’re in so far they don’t have the integrity to admit they’re wrong.”
“The bottom line is I didn’t kill my friend – I didn’t. And they don’t want to admit they fumbled this investigation,” he added.
Clune, as ever, remains steadfast in his belief that authorities have the right man.
“We wouldn’t prosecute if we didn’t feel that way,” he said.
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