SPOKANE, Wash. - After more than six years, on Thursday a federal judge sentenced former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson to 51 months (4 years, 3 months) in the beating death of disabled janitor Otto Zehm.
SPOKANE, Wash. - After more than six years, a federal judge will sentence former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson in the beating death of disabled janitor Otto Zehm.
U.S. Trial Attorney Victor Boutros was among the first to speak at the sentencing hearing this morning and he used his time to emphasize why he feels it's important for Karl Thompson to be sentenced to 9-11 years in prison.
"No one is above the law," Boutros said. "No one gets special treatment. Not Congressmen, not Wall Street…not police officers." "This is a case where an innocent man died never understanding why he had been attacked."
The family members of Otto Zehm also had a chance to address the judge.
"Saturday March 18th, 2006 changed my life," Dale Zehm said. "I continue to struggle with what Otto went through in the last hour of his life."
Dale Zehm concluded his remarks by looking right into Karl Thompson's eyes and he said this:
"I wonder how Mr. Thompson would have felt as a parent if this would have happened to his child?"
In a letter Otto Zehm's mother Ann wrote, "It took over six years for the city of Spokane to apologize for attacking and killing my son. I am still yet to hear from Karl Thompson."
Defense Attorney Carl Oreskovich began the afternoon session by saying "We are not here to sentence a case, we are here to sentence an individual."
"This is a police officer who at all times has been exemplary, he's been a leader" Oreskovich said. "This is a man who has been identified as someone who has been looked up, a calm thinker, a rationale thinker."
Oreskovich and his defense team are asking for no prison time for the former Spokane Police Officer.
The judge has yet to make a decision on a sentence. It's expected that he will sometime later this afternoon.
Long Road To Sentencing
The controversial story goes back to March 18th of 2006 when Karl Thompson hogtied, beat and tased Zehm in the North Spokane Zip Trip. Zehm died a few days later from his injuries in a Spokane hospital.
In the fall of 2011, Thompson went to trial and a jury convicted him for the use of excessive force during the incident and lying to investigators following Zehm's death. The judge moved the trial to Yakima for fear that local news coverage in the Spokane area could affect a jury's ability to be impartial.
After Thompson's conviction, federal judge Fred Van Sickel set a sentencing date for January 27th of this year. Van Sickel also ruled that Thompson could stay out of custody until sentencing, and as a result of that decision Thompson remained out of prison as his defense team filed their appeals.
In early 2012, Defense Attorney Carl Oreskovich filed a motion for a new trial and also a motion to dismiss the case entirely. The requests were based on allegations of juror misconduct, among other things. Those efforts by the defense took many months for Judge Van Sickle to sort through, so the original sentencing date was pushed back nearly eleven months.
"All I Wanted Was A Snickers"
When Karl Thompson arrived at the gas station on March 18th, 2006 he said he was under the impression Otto Zehm may have robbed two women in a car using a nearby ATM. That information later proved to be false. In the closing arguments of Thompson's trial last fall Federal Prosecutors said, "This case is about a police officer who chose to strike first and ask questions later."
Victor Boutros, U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorney, said during the trial that Zehm didn't pose a threat to anyone. Boutros contended that Zehm was a regular at the Zip Trip and he would often times just go to get a soda.
"With his dying words, he (Zehm) never understood why the defendant had beat him: ‘All I wanted was a Snickers.'"
Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Karl Thompson abused his badge as a police officer and they urged the jurors to make a statement with its decision that no one is above the law.
The defense contended throughout the whole process that the prosecution never proved Thompson acted with bad or evil purpose the night of the incident. Thompson said he was on lunch break when he first learned information about the suspicious activity, and soon he checked himself into the call.
"This is the actions of a man that we would be proud of," Defense Attorney Carl Oreskovich said during trial last fall.
Through the trial the prosecution worked to prove that Thompson struck Zehm in the head or the neck with his baton. A strike to the head or neck is considered lethal force.
"You had evidence from not only the witnesses, but the doctors in this case that there were strikes to the head and neck," U.S. Attorney Boutros said in his closing arguments last year. "If you find any willful neck strikes or head strikes, find the defendant guilty of count one (use of excessive force)."
Boutros pointed out 14 baton strikes that he considered "unreasonable" or "excessive."
Karl Thompson: An "Honorable Man"
While making their closing arguments last year Carl Oreskovich called his client Karl Thompson an "honorable man."
"This is not a man who comes up on somebody with a baton," Oreskovich said. "This is a man who is constantly trying to be better."
Oreskovich also brought up a letter in trial written by fellow officers back in 2006 petitioning Thompson to apply for the police chief position eventually filled by Anne Kirkpatrick.
Prior to the verdict being handed down Victor Boutros ended with one final thought for the jurors.
"This is a tragic and terrible story, but you all get to write the last chapter," Boutros said. "You get the final word and the final word is guilty."
Turns out he was right. The jury convicted Thompson on both counts.