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Submitted by admin on Wed, 11/23/2011 – 3:33am
Guilty of second degree murder was the verdict delivered by the jury Friday morning, November 18 in the murder trial of Christopher Thompson of rural Monona held at the Allamakee County Courthouse last week. Thompson was standing trial for first degree murder in the October 2, 2010 shooting death of his live-in girlfriend, Angela Marie Gabel, with the difference between first and second degree murder – and the verdict – lying within intent.
The definition of first degree murder in Chapter 707 of the Iowa Code includes the following element: “The person willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation kills another person.” Second degree murder does not involve such an element of intent, and Allamakee County Attorney Jill Kistler explains that “the jury must have believed that he (Thompson) didn’t have that specific intent” in commenting on the final decision.
“The State believed that the defendant had committed first degree murder, but we don’t get to make that decision, that’s why we have juries and judges,” said Iowa Assistant Attorney General Andrew Prosser, who, along with Kistler, formed the prosecuting team for the case against Thompson. “The State fully accepts the decision of the jury in this case.”
Steven Hodge of the Dubuque Public Defender’s Office, part of Thompson’s defense team, would not comment on the decision.
Sentencing in the trial has been scheduled to take place January 18. The resulting difference in Thompson’s sentencing will be a maximum of 50 years in prison, with at least 70% (35 years) of that time being served as a minimum for the second degree murder conviction, as opposed to the mandatory life sentence without parole if the first degree murder verdict had been rendered.
After recessing at the end of the day Monday following initial testimony (reported in the November 16 issue of The Standard), the trial resumed Tuesday, November 15 in Allamakee County District Court with the cross-examination of Allamakee County Deputy Sheriff Clark Mellick, whose testimony Monday, November 14 included the presentation to the jury of a two and a half hour videotaped interview in which Thompson confessed to shooting Gabel October 2, 2010 in rural Monona.
Under questioning by another of Thompson’s attorneys, Paul Kaufman of the Dubuque Public Defender’s Office, Mellick testified that Thompson was somewhat sleep deprived and visibly intoxicated during the interview, which concluded at around 4 a.m. October 3, 2010. Mellick agreed with Kaufman that Thompson’s behavior during the interview was indicative of “some level of intoxication.” During the interview, Thompson was unable to remember his own cell phone number, often repeated himself, became confused about dates, demonstrated emotional extremes and some of his answers were difficult to understand. Also during the interview, Thompson stated that he had consumed 18 beers, and a test of his breath after the interview showed that his blood alcohol content was .184 (over twice the legal limit under Iowa law for Operating While Intoxicated).
Mellick also agreed with Kaufman that despite Thompson’s level of intoxication and sleep deprivation, Thompson was consistent in stating that he did not intend to shoot Gabel when he fired the first shot, that he only intended to “scare her.” Kaufman pointed out that Thompson had stated, “I didn’t mean to do it” and “I didn’t mean to shoot her” at least seven times during the interview.
After Mellick left the witness stand, the prosecution called its final witness, Associate Medical Examiner for the State of Iowa Michelle Catalier, who conducted the autopsy on Gabel’s body October 4, 2010. Catalier testified that Gabel had been shot twice in the head, which was consistent with Thompson’s statement that he had shot Gabel once from the porch of his rural Monona home as she sat in a car in the driveway and a second time to “put her out of her misery.” Catalier said that either of the two gunshot wounds could have been fatal and that she was unable to determine which of the two wounds was inflicted first. The prosecution rested its case following Catalier’s testimony.
Steven Hodge of the Dubuque Public Defender’s Office then presented the defense’s opening argument, emphasizing that Thompson did not mean to shoot Gabel and that the prosecution had not proven the premeditation necessary to justify a conviction for first degree murder. He told the members of the jury that they would need to either “find some alternative” or find Thompson not guilty.
Hodge further argued that the combination of Thompson’s turbulent relationship with Gabel, Thompson’s post-traumatic stress disorder caused by military service in Iraq, and Thompson’s alcoholism created a very volatile situation.
The defense then called several members of Thompson’s family, who all testified that Thompson had been happy and outgoing prior to being deployed to Iraq, but that he returned from the war a changed person – quick-tempered, edgy, jumpy, paranoid and socially isolated, preferring to stay at home and drink. Members of Thompson’s family also testified that he and Gabel frequently argued, yelling at each other and calling each other names.
The trial continued Wednesday, November 16 with two expert witnesses called by the defense. The first was Michael Rehberg, a retired Director of the DCI crime lab in Des Moines and an expert in forensics. Rehberg said his specialty is forensic toxicology, the scientific study of cells and how they are affected by drugs and alcohol. He said he had performed 30,000 to 40,000 alcohol analyses over the years.
Rehberg said the defendant’s alcohol level was .184 at the time of his arrest and was probably as high as .25 earlier in the evening, which was consistent with the 18 beers that Thompson had consumed on the night in question. With levels this high, Rehberg said Thompson would have been “…blatantly intoxicated, sedated, befuddled, inhibited and under the control of alcohol”. He said he would have exhibited not only physical symptoms such as balance and coordination but difficulties with mental functions as well, including thinking processes and organization. He also said Thompson was not on medication nor had he been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by military or civilian health professionals. His conclusion was that the defendant, because of his mental state, could not form the thought processes necessary to formulate specific intent at the time of the incident.
The second witness for the defense, Dr. Arthur Konar, a licensed psychologist now practicing and teaching in Ames, testified regarding the defendant’s mental state. He said in addition to reviewing the video confession, he conducted a clinical assessment of the defendant which included a life history and a psychological test called an MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). Dr. Konar’s (dual) diagnosis of Thompson was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism. Konar said PTSD is marked by sleep difficulties, agitation, suspiciousness, hypervigilance and flashbacks. He also said patients with PTSD have different symptoms at different times, and they can become more extreme under stress. He concluded that the defendant did not act with malice aforethought but was in a reactive mode, seeing and reacting to imagined threats.
The prosecution called a rebuttal witness, Dr. Michael Taylor, a psychiatrist now in private practice who at one time was the Medical Director of Psychiatric Services at the University of Iowa. He had interviewed the defendant March 17, 2011. Although Dr. Taylor agreed with the diagnosis proffered by Dr. Konar, he disagreed with him regarding malice aforethought. He also disagreed with Rehberg concerning the ability to formulate specific intent. His conclusion was that Thompson was fully capable of forming specific intent and acted with malice. Taylor said there was “not one shred of evidence” that PTSD or alcohol influenced the defendant’s actions the night of October 2, 2010.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Steven Hodge, Dr. Taylor agreed that Thompson appeared puzzled as to why he acted that way that night. It was also revealed that at the time of his interview with Dr. Taylor, Thompson was being treated with the antidepressant Prozac.
Thursday morning, November 17, the judge read instructions to the jury. He said the burden of proof was on the State and that they must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He outlined possible verdicts and defined several legal terms. He said verdicts might include first degree murder, second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and several other lesser charges, and also advised the jury would not be involved in sentencing.
During closing arguments, Attorney Andrew Prosser addressed the jury, reminding them of the facts presented and his interpretation of what they meant. He said Thompson’s intent was to kill; it was not an accident. The defendant’s actions were premeditated and he had time to change his mind. Prosser reminded the jury that Thompson shot the victim the second time “to make sure she was dead”.
Defense attorney Hodge reminded the jury that the State must prove each and every element of truth beyond a reasonable doubt. He pleaded with the jury not to pick certain things out, but to take everything into consideration in its entirety – that one fact was not more important than another. Hodge also reviewed the PTSD symptoms and how Thompson’s personality changed after his deployment in Iraq. He said, “There are no winners here. This was a very tragic incident.” Hodge recalled the 911 tape which revealed a very upset, intoxicated person reporting a “horrific deed”. He suggested that the witness, Dr. Taylor, did not talk to the defendant long enough to determine Thompson’s state of mind and had stated that the defendant was “genuinely puzzled” as to the reason why he shot Angela Gabel. Hodge asserted that the State had not proved anything and the jury should find Thompson not guilty.
The jury was dismissed at approximately 2:30 p.m. Thursday and began deliberations immediately, rendering the aforementioned verdict Friday morning.