Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

When the price of leniency is innocent blood

Post by Brian O'Neill on Jan. 25, 2012 at 9:42 am with 7 Comments »
January 26, 2012 5:27 pm

First in a three part series on balancing civil rights and public safety.

Nine years ago a serial rapist by the name of Curtis Thompson was released from prison after serving a seventeen year sentence. With the aid of a defense expert, who testified that Thompson’s violent history was insufficient to label him a sexual sadist, Thompson was given unprecedented leniency. Bypassing the routine civil commitment and incarceration meted out to sexual predators, Thompson was released back into the community.

Of course, that’s where the story gets even worse.

Thompson moved back home to his mother’s house in Northgate and soon returned to his old habits. During a short span of time in 2004, Thompson raped four women. He poured bleach on one of them to hide his DNA evidence. He killed one of them with a screwdriver. This brutal chapter ended with his arrest and imprisonment. Again.

The more you read the details of this story, (reported in the Seattle Times) the harder it becomes to contain a sense of outrage. This deviant began his pillaging as a teenager, burglarizing and stealing from dozens of homes and sexually abusing his own family members. In his 20’s he combined these crimes by breaking into women’s homes, threatening them with knives and covering their faces with pillows while he raped them. This led to his initial arrest and imprisonment in 1985.

What the article failed to elaborate on was the lengthy and painstaking investigation, the exhaustive and costly trial and the appeals process to which Thompson had ready access. In short, locking up this monster was a burdensome task.

Our society places great value on personal liberties. As such, there are many obstacles set up in the criminal justice system that police and prosecutors must hurdle before a court can finally strip an individual’s freedom. And rightly so.

Despite all of these safeguards, Thompson’s case highlights a major flaw in the system. His monstrous actions and subsequent conviction should have been more than sufficient to provide a seamless transfer to our state’s civil commitment center for sexual predators. Instead, a court-appointed defense psychologist was allowed to provide evidence at a commitment hearing that Thompson was no longer a threat to the community at large.

And what were the defense psychologist’s facts?  1) Thompson had not committed a sex offense in seventeen years; 2) Thompson told the psychologist he was now a Jehovah’s Witness and was no longer interested in harming women; 3) Thompson’s actions, blindfolding, cutting and choking his rape victims, did not constitute “sexual sadism.”

One can imagine what the prosecutor’s rebuttal to these statements could be: Wasn’t it true that the defendant was actually incarcerated during those seventeen years?; So you would like us to release him because the defendant said he’s cured?; And what, for the love of God (strike that), constitutes sexual sadism in your definition?

Which brings us back to the flaw in the system: Human decency. According to the prosecution’s psychologist, Amy Phenix, “People tend to want to think other people are good or changed – that’s human nature.”

That is a plausible explanation for the jurors’ decision to release Thompson from any civil commitment in 2004. Pointing out the obvious error in this judgment, which ultimately freed this predator to rape and kill more victims, does suggest the disingenuous notion of hindsight.

I disagree.

My point of view is obviously entrenched in my role as a police officer. But this vantage has given me a deeper understanding of our courts, a system that chips away at the massive amount of credible evidence until only a small portion remains for jurors to view. When jurors overcome their lenient tendencies, it is a clear and resounding indication of the defendant’s guilt.

Jurors in Thompson’s civil commitment hearing were, hopefully, well versed in his past crimes. They would have realized that this individual made horrific choices, choices that in other world cultures would have meant his certain death. Making the decision to free this monster would not have been an easy decision. However, when faced with the chance to extend some mercy, to tap into our lenient human nature, Thompson’s jurors could not help but scratch this itch.

The more courageous act would have been to face the man, refuse his release and live with the knowledge that the tough decision was made to place the safety of the community above the liberty of a convicted serial rapist.

For the future, we have the words of Nanci Newhall, whose sister died at Thompson’s hand. “Walk a mile in my shoes…see if [you] feel the same. I’m all for fairness and liberty, but that doesn’t mean you let a psychopath out.”

Curtis Thompson is wheeled through the courthouse/ Seattle Times photo
Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. Every Juror should have as required reading the book “Inside the Criminal Mind” by Stanton E. Samenow. The cliff notes – career criminals and sociopaths don’t think like a law abiding citizen, so don’t place your expectations of law and order, good/evil, right/wrong on them. For the hard core criminal and psychotic, “rehabilitation” rarely works. They simply lie and cheat to work the system, telling the Drs exactly what they want to hear. They love the “good intentions” and the ability to paint themselves as “victims” (victims of society, of poor parenting, of abuse, of peer pressure, etc) and will do or say whatever they can to gain their freedom to commit crimes again.

  2. We should question ‘techno-speak’ in the courtroom but we should
    question the ‘techno-speak’ of the police too.

  3. donfosters says:

    Should have shot this POS a long time ago.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    The point of the column was not the “technospeak” of the psychologists, nor the need to shoot this idiot. The point was that we have a vibrant and workable system in place, but need our jurors (and clemency-inclined governors) to make the hard choices rather than the easy ones. Too much is at stake.

  5. I’m old enough to have been on juries in three murder cases and numerous trials for violent crimes. The biggest problem I have seen is that many jurists confuse “beyond a reasonable doubt” with absolute, no-doubt proof.

    In the jury room, some jurists offer many “what if’s” that were not presented in court to show there could be doubt. They make up scenarios that are not based on any evidence. I get frustrated in reminding them that we have to go with what was presented in court, not our own fantasy cases.

    Our system demands unanimous verdicts in major crimes. Several countries allow one or two people to dissent and the verdict is still official. I am on the fence about that one, but I’ve seen so many juries with one person who just doesn’t follow the court rules in their decisions, that I am beginning to side with the notion of letting it be 11-1 and still get a conviction.

    In every hung jury I have been on, only one person dissented and it was because they were convinced that their own made up scenarios were better than either the prosecutions’s or the defense’s. In one assault using deadly weapon case, this was the fourth time it had been tried, with an 11-1 decision on every case before it.

    We found out after our guilty verdict that it was being tried for the fourth time because there had been a long pattern of assaults and there was new evidence in this case. This criminal preyed on prostitutes where the testimony of the victims was discounted by jurists, so the individual was released. The prosecutors were determined to get this dangerous person behind bars, and they were right to do so. He had later raped and killed another woman while waiting for this retrial.

    Jury eductaion should be a little stronger in what “beyond a reasonable doubt” really entails and what it must not.

  6. I feel a deviate that commits the crimes described here,should be taken immediatly to prison and put in solitary confinement until he expires.I wonder how proud the Lawyers are that pull every trick in the book to set these criminals free.I also wonder how the Lenient Judges live with themselves when they see what happens when they give out the pat on the back and give the sage advice of,Go and sin no more.The Police and Prosecutors must want to give up and find another line of work when they see all the hard work that was required to bring the criminals to justice and all their efforts go for naught.The Police and Prosecutors should get an A for effort.

  7. MadTaxpayer says:

    That State funded criminal cemetery is really cheap after looking at the carnage this monster forced upon his victims!
    1st offense, death! Oh! and look, no repeat offenders which means not one more victim!

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