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Court deliberating whether Thompson merits new trial

SPOKANE, Wash. - Federal Judge Fred Van Sickle spent the weekend working to determine whether or not former police officer Karl Thompson deserves a new trial.

Last Friday Judge Van Sickle heard hours of arguments about whether prosecutors withheld evidence that could have helped with Thompson's defense.

Thompson was convicted of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights last November but still hasn't been sentenced. It would be easy to assume that, as a former police officer, Thompson is getting some sort of preferential treatment from the judge.

Court deliberating whether Thompson merits new trial

However Roger Peven, a former public defender who spent 20 years working in federal court before he moved to private practice, said that these delays in sentencing may actually speed up sending Thompson to prison.

"All of these issues have to be fully litigated and put to rest," Peven said.

If the city of Spokane wasn't paying Thompson's legal bills the former officer would have likely been represented by Peven, who said Thompson's claims of prosecutorial and juror misconduct are not stall tactics and believes enduring the delays now could prevent Thompson from having his conviction overturned in the future.

"This trial court has to make as full a record as it can or the court of appeals cannot consider either the defendant's nor government's appeal. And even more importantly, if it feels the record is incomplete after a period of time it can send it back to the trial court to have the further findings which is a very long process," he said.

Peven points to the Rodney King beating case against four Los Angeles police officers as proof that while complex, police use of force cases are eventually resolved. It took two trials and five years to send two of the four men to prison in that case; the other two were acquitted.

"This court has to consider all of the legal ramifications; take its time in making decisions and allow the legal system to take it's course so in the future you won't know Karl Thompson when you say that name but you will know Otto Zehm," he said.

Peven isn't concerned that Thompson has been allowed to remain out of custody even after he was convicted, the court seemingly satisfied that if Thompson was a flight risk he would have fled along time ago.

Judge Van Sickle did not say when he would offer his decision about Thompson's request for a new trial. The bill for defending him is now approaching the half million dollar mark.