Judge Postpones Thompson Sentencing - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Judge Postpones Thompson Sentencing

Spokesman.com - A scheduled sentencing hearing later this month for former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson was postponed on Thursday to give defense attorneys more time to investigate new information that might bolster their argument for a new trial.

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle vacated the Jan. 27 hearing after a video analyst hired by the U.S. Justice Department advised the court that federal prosecutors may have withheld potentially beneficial information to the defense in the excessive force case. Prosecutors disagree.

The judge, however, ordered that the sentencing hearing be postponed indefinitely and extended the deadline to Jan. 24 for Thompson's lawyers to submit arguments for why their client should get a new trial. The extension was to give the defense team time to determine whether any information from the video analyst's contentions should be a part of the request.

In his ruling, Van Sickle acknowledged that it was "unusual."

"Typically, an order has its genesis in a motion," the judge wrote. "Strictly speaking, that is not so in this instance. The Court received a letter ‘out of the blue' as it were. The letter set in motion a chain of events that led to this order."

Thompson, 64, was convicted in November by a federal jury of using excessive force in the 2006 beating and death of unarmed janitor Otto Zehm. At least one other Spokane police officer remains under FBI investigation for her role in the initial police investigation of the fatal encounter.

Triggering today's twist was a Dec. 1 request from a video analyst hired by prosecutors to be released from the confidentiality agreement he'd signed with the Justice Department. The analyst, whose identity wasn't included in Van Sickle's ruling, told the court that he felt prosecutors improperly withheld information from the defense but that the confidentiality agreement prohibited him from providing specific details.

Van Sickle ordered the confidentiality agreement waived after prosecutors failed to submit their arguments by the Dec. 19 deadline for why it should remain in place. A letter written by the analyst detailing why he considered the prosecution's disclosures to the defense team to be "innacurate, misleading, or incomplete" was then provided to the defense.

The allegations contained in the letter, however, were not included in Van Sickle's order postponing the sentencing hearing.