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Thompson Ready To Take The Stand

SPOKANE, Wash. - After two weeks of testimony from a range of experts, Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson is ready to take the stand in his own defense and explain to the jury why he's not guilty of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights.

Thompson, 64, will be called as the defense's final witness Thursday morning and wrap up two weeks of dramatic testimony in federal court. And, despite eyewitness accounts and damaging surveillance video, some legal experts are predicting Thompson will still be acquitted.

The reason? It comes down to the burden of proof federal prosecutors must overcome in order to convict Thompson.

Prosecutors have to show that Thompson willfully and intentionally deprived Zehm of his civil rights. Getting 12 people to agree on that might be very difficult.

If Karl Thompson was only accused of being a hard-charging cop, then this surveillance video would make the case a slam-dunk for prosecutors. However prosecutors must prove that Thompson willfully set out to violate Zehm's civil rights.

"The real force of this defense is that if there are injuries to the head they were not done intentionally or willfully but during a time that Officer Thompson was trying to detain Mister Zehm and was facing resistance," Spokane attorney Chris Bugbee said.

While Thompson's jury has spent the past two weeks listening to damning expert testimony, they'll soon be getting instructions about how to apply the law to the facts in the case.

After looking at the instructions proposed by the defense, Bugbee thinks prosecutors are fighting an uphill battle.

"When the jurors consider whether Officer Thompson acted willfully and against Mister Zehm's civil rights they have to look at the totality of the circumstances as they were known to officer at that time," Bugbee said.

A good example of an officer willfully violating someone's civil rights would be if a policeman went up to an "Occupy Spokane" protester and threatened to club them if they didn't put down their sign. In Thompson's case, the jury must decide if Thompson even had time to form intent.

"I know there is a lot of sentiment that maybe this is a slam dunk case but given the way the law reads I don't see it that way," Bugbee said.

Bugbee says regardless of the verdict, he hopes Spokane residents will respect it.

"That's what our whole jury system is about. It's not putting it in the hands of our prosecutors, its not putting it in the hands of law enforcement. Our Constitution says hey we're going to let normal citizens decide these issues that are just paramount to these communities," he said.

Prosecutors have their own set of proposed instructions that tell the jury Thompson should not have used any force against Otto Zehm unless Thompson thought his safety was threatened, though there are far more instructions that clearly benefit the defendant. RELATED DOCUMENTS (PDF): Thompson Trial -- Prosecutors' Proposed Jury Instructions Thompson Trial -- Defense Proposed Jury Instructions