Detective confident about verdict in beating case
EAGLE ” The lead detective in the Eagle County sheriff’s office said he never doubted that his department got the right man for a beating death in El Jebel despite an elaborate smoke screen the suspect laid.
Det. Lt. Mike McWilliam was eager to talk about the case against Russell Thompson after a gag order prohibited him from speaking of the case for years. McWilliam sat tongue-tied through numerous court hearings when Thompson accused his department of conducting a shoddy investigation.
Because McWilliam wasn’t testifying in those pretrial hearings, he never got to answer Thompson’s allegations or defend his department.
That changed Monday when the case concluded with Thompson getting a six-year prison sentence.
Speaking about the case for the first time, McWilliam said he always felt the evidence against Thompson was solid, even if the suspect was able to raise questions with alternative theories.
Thompson claimed that because he initially confessed to killing Timothy “Chico” Destromp in El Jebel on Feb. 10, 2001, the sheriff’s office didn’t do a thorough job of investigating the crime scene. Thompson also offered an alternative list of suspects on numerous occasions. He claimed that Destromp was beaten to death by neighbors who were having affairs with his girlfriend and were upset that Destromp was beating her.
McWilliam said Thompson’s confessions were important in the case but didn’t limit the scope of the investigation. His team investigated for evidence as if no confession were given, he said.
For example, investigators took Thompson to a clinic in Eagle the day after his arrest to have his hand examined. The exam confirmed his hand was red and swollen consistent with striking someone or something. Thompson told investigators en route to the clinic that the step was unnecessary because he was guilty of beating Destromp, according to McWilliam.
The detective stressed that in addition to calling 911 and reporting that he had hurt his friend on the night of the murder, Thompson also confessed later that night while he was intoxicated and again the next day when he was sober.
As further evidence that the investigation was thorough, McWilliam said his department enlisted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s help at the crime scene to process some of the evidence. That is standard procedure for many sheriff’s offices.
As court proceedings progressed over five years, Thompson contended that as many as three of Destromp’s neighbors conspired to beat him, then blame Thompson. The sheriff’s detectives checked out the theory but didn’t find a factual basis for it, McWilliam said.
“We never found any evidence that anybody else was responsible for this crime,” he said. “It appeared that Russell Thompson and Chico Destromp were the only ones [at Destromp’s apartment] that evening.”
Thompson contended that bloody footprints leading to an apartment upstairs from Destromp’s, and blood on the wall there, indicated that the fight might have started there, then moved downstairs, where Destromp died.
McWilliam countered that investigators believe Thompson made his way upstairs looking for a telephone to use when he fled Destromp’s apartment. He didn’t find one at the upstairs apartment.
The highly intoxicated Thompson made his way to a house in the neighboring subdivision of Summit Vista instead and called a police dispatcher. Audio tapes played during court proceedings indicated that Thompson was distraught and worried that he killed his friend.
Thompson recanted his confessions shortly after his arrest. He contended he couldn’t remember what happened in Destromp’s apartment. His blood-alcohol concentration was .275 several hours after his arrest.
McWilliam said he believes Thompson’s knows exactly what happened but doesn’t want to admit to his family that he was capable of beating a friend to death. McWilliam said he was “disappointed” with the six-year sentence for Thompson but understood why the district attorney’s office sought that amount of time.
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