Jury deadlocked on criminal threatening chargeThompson acquitted on one of four remaining charges
Belfast — After more than four hours of deliberating, jurors in the Benjamin Thompson case informed Justice Robert Murray they were unable to arrive at a unanimous decision on one of five charges Thompson faced.
Upon further questioning from the justice, jurors confirmed both collectively and individually that they could not decide whether Thompson had committed the crime of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
As Justice Murray polled each juror individually, each indicated further deliberations would not resolve the issue, nor did any of them feel it would result in a unanimous decision.
The jury foreman further told the justice that jurors had arrived at unanimous decisions on the remaining charges against Thompson, which he incurred following a series of events that began just before midnight June 8, 2011 and ended when Belfast Police Officer Dan Fitzpatrick shot him after he exited his vehicle while holding a shotgun.
Jurors found Thompson not guilty of threatening display of a weapon, but found him guilty of keeping a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, operating under the influence (with one prior conviction) and failure to stop for a police officer.
Based on the jury's finding, Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker and Defense Attorney Steven Peterson agreed sentencing should be delayed.
"The state wants to decide if it wants to go forward with a re-trial on count one," said Peterson, adding that the two attorneys also agreed Thompson's existing bail conditions are adequate until his sentencing date.
Walker said he plans to wait until this particular pool of jurors are released for this term and then speak with them to find out how the vote broke down to see if the matter might be worth re-trying.
Justice Murray set a tentative sentencing date of Thursday, Nov. 29, at 8 a.m. at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.
'I wanted to help'
The defense presented a handful of witnesses Tuesday morning, Oct. 30, the first being Thompson's ex-wife Clara Thompson.
Clara Thompson said she met her former husband in Sept. 2009 when mutual friends introduced the two of them. The couple was married by Jan. 2010, but by Jan. 2012 the relationship ended in divorce.
Peterson asked Clara Thompson about the nature of their marriage, and she said it wasn't always easy.
"We split up five times," she said.
Clara Thompson said her ex-husband had problems with his anger and with drinking, a habit she said she thought Thompson picked up as a way of self-medicating due to traumatic experiences he had while serving in Iraq as a Marine. She described his general demeanor as "miserable, lonely, scared," and said Thompson was hyper-vigilant, noting he sometimes slept with knives tucked into the mattress.
On the day of the incident, Clara Thompson said she, Thompson and some relatives had gone fishing earlier in the day and that Thompson had begun consuming beer at about noon. At one point, a fishing pole ended up in the lake and Clara Thompson said she jumped into the water, fully clothed, to retrieve it. She said her husband was not happy with her decision to do so.
"He snapped," said Clara Thompson. "He thought I only did it for attention and then he left."
She said she went back to her parents' home in Swanville to get dry clothes, and she thought her husband had walked to his grandparents' home. But at about 9:30 p.m., she said, "The text messages started."
"He told me he was going to kill himself and he was going to do it in my front yard," she said. "... I asked him why he was saying those things to me."
After a few of these texts, Clara Thompson said she asked her best friend to call police and ask for help looking for her husband. Clara Thompson said she eventually took to the road herself, saw a police cruiser with flashing lights and followed that vehicle to where her husband lay bleeding at the intersection of Swan Lake Avenue and Smart Road in Belfast.
"When I found him he was already shot," she said, her voice breaking. "... He was screaming, covered in blood and saying he wanted to die."
Clara Thompson said Thompson had been seeing a counselor at a veterans' facility in Bangor while they were married and that he was on medication to help him sleep, but he still suffered daily as a result of his service in Iraq.
She said Thompson typically seemed depressed and down, which she said was one of the things that drew her to him when they met.
"I wanted to help, to be there for him so he wasn't alone," she said.
She said Thompson did not like being in places where there were a lot of people and they typically stayed home because of his anxiety about crowds.
During cross-examination, Walker asked Clara Thompson if her ex-husband disliked police officers, and she said that was not true. She went on to say Thompson had told her in the past that if he kept a gun in his car and police saw it they would shoot him.
Clara Thompson also told Walker about things Thompson said to her when he woke up in the hospital after he was shot.
"He told me it was all my fault, he told me he wouldn't be here if I hadn't called the police," she said.
Clara Thompson also said Thompson told her he felt Fitzpatrick misinterpreted his exiting the vehicle with the shotgun as a threatening gesture, as Thompson told her he didn't want to hurt anyone but himself.
'I was very concerned'
Bob Daisey, a social worker and outpatient therapist at the Bangor Veterans Center, said he first met Thompson in Aug. 2010, when he came to the center for an initial screening.
When Peterson asked Daisey to describe the nature of PTSD, Daisey said it can be a challenging condition for those who suffer from it.
"When a person goes through a life threatening trauma, his psyche tries to incorporate what happened," he said. "It becomes part of you, how you look at the world and how you see things [after] that event."
Symptoms can include intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks, and Daisey said individual therapy and some medication are options for treatment.
Thompson's diagnosis, Daisey said, was one of "PTSD with depressive features."
"He was very fragile, it was very difficult for him to talk about the trauma," said Daisey.
On one occasion a couple of months before the June 8 incident, Daisey said he grew very concerned for Thompson because Thompson told him he spent an evening driving around with a loaded gun contemplating suicide.
"I was very concerned," said Daisey.
Daisey said he immediately referred Thompson to a PTSD program in Augusta, which he completed, and Daisey said he thought things were turning around for Thompson at that time.
Upon questioning from Walker, Daisey said he did not believe Thompson was a danger to others.
Walker also asked whether PTSD is a condition from which many people who are not veterans — including victims of child abuse or sexual assault — might also suffer.
"Yes," said Daisey.
Story as of Monday, Oct. 29
Belfast Police Officer Dan Fitzpatrick said he feared for his life when he encountered Benjamin Thompson as he brandished a shotgun during a traffic stop on the night of June 8, 2011.
Fitzpatrick was the first witness to take the stand Monday morning, Oct. 29, when the criminal trial of 28-year-old Benjamin Thompson of Belfast began in Waldo County Superior Court. In his opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said the trial is expected to span two days.
Thompson, a veteran of the Iraq War, is facing charges of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, threatening display of a weapon, keeping a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, operating under the influence (with one prior conviction) and failure to stop for a police officer following a series of events that began just before midnight June 8, 2011.
'I thought that I was going to die'
During his testimony, Fitzpatrick said he and Belfast Patrolman Matthew Cook were in Belfast at the Veterans Memorial Bridge, where the duo planned to stop traffic there to allow for the installation of fiber optic cable. Fitzpatrick said a few minutes later he heard unusual scanner traffic from Searsport Police Officer Eric Marcel, who was losing sight of a vehicle he was attempting to stop on Brock Road in Searsport.
Fitzpatrick said because Marcel indicated the vehicle may be headed toward the Searsport-Swanville area, he and Cook went to the intersection of Smart and Curtis Roads to see if the vehicle — which was described as a dark-colored Jeep — may pass through there.
Shortly after the two arrived, Fitzpatrick said they heard a loud vehicle approaching.
"We heard this vehicle before we even saw it," said Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick said when the vehicle came into sight he noted it fit the description of the dark-colored Jeep Marcel was previously attempting to stop.
Fitzpatrick followed the vehicle in his cruiser, and said Cook followed close behind as they pursued the Jeep on Smart Road heading back toward Route 141. Fitzpatrick said at that time he was concerned about the safety of other drivers because the Jeep was weaving into the oncoming lane.
Soon after beginning his pursuit, Fitzpatrick said he switched on his blue lights, which also activated the in-cruiser camera system. On the 20-minute cruiser video, which Walker played during Fitzpatrick's testimony, Fitzpatrick could be heard giving the plate number of the Jeep to dispatch. Moments later, the video showed the Jeep and Fitzpatrick's cruiser coming to a stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Swan Lake Avenue.
"The driver's side of the SUV started to open," said Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick said he then exited his cruiser and saw the driver, who he later identified as Thompson, standing back-to. On the video, Fitzpatrick could be heard yelling at Thompson to show his hands, a command that was followed by the sound of four shots from Fitzpatrick's service weapon. A few seconds later, Thompson fell to the ground and started screaming, telling the officers, "please kill me" and "I want to die."
Fitzpatrick said he discharged his sidearm — a .45 automatic handgun — because when Thompson turned to face him he was holding a shotgun.
"It happened in the blink of an eye," said Fitzpatrick.
When Walker asked Fitzpatrick what he was thinking at the time of the incident, Fitzpatrick said he was afraid for his own life.
"I thought that I was going to die," said Fitzpatrick. "... I just wanted to get home in one piece."
Fitzpatrick said after the shooting, Thompson was lying on his stomach with his left hand beneath his body.
Fitzpatrick said Cook then approached, and Fitzpatrick kept his sidearm trained on Thompson until Cook could place him in handcuffs. Simultaneously, Fitzpatrick said, he kicked the shotgun away from Thompson.
The officers then applied pressure to one of the three gunshot wounds Thompson suffered at the scene, the one in the abdomen, because Fitzpatrick said that's where Thompson appeared to be bleeding the most. Thompson also sustained two additional gunshot wounds to his upper leg and thigh regions, Fitzpatrick said.
Officers from Belfast and the Waldo County Sheriff's office arrived shortly after the shooting.
As the jury watched the cruiser video Thompson was visibly upset, holding his head in his hands, covering his ears and slowly rocking back and forth.
During his cross examination, Defense Attorney Steven Peterson asked Fitzpatrick what he knew about his client prior to encountering him at the intersection of Route 141 and the Smart Road.
"I had no other information about Mr. Thompson," said Fitzpatrick. "At that point I didn't even know who Mr. Thompson was."
"Did you have any information about any kind of gun in the vehicle?" asked Peterson.
"No sir," said Fitzpatrick.
Peterson then asked Fitzpatrick if Thompson was still standing as he fired those four shots and Fitzpatrick said he was.
"I've been taught to shoot until the subject is no longer a threat," Fitzpatrick said.
Other officers who testified Monday included Cook, Marcel and Maine State Police Detective Scott Bryant.
'Suicide by cop'
"Let's first begin with what happened that night," Walker told the jury in his opening statements.
Walker said the case involved an individual who was "intoxicated, armed with a shotgun and driving around Searsport and Belfast."
"Searsport [police] could not stop him," said Walker.
Walker said two Belfast police officers — Fitzpatrick and Cook — spotted Thompson's vehicle after Marcel was unable to keep up with the Jeep because his limited training at that time prevented him from engaging in a high speed chase.
Fitzpatrick, said Walker, ended up pursuing the Jeep after seeing it turn onto Smart Road, and by the time he and Thompson reached the intersection of Route 141, Fitzpatrick had little time to figure out how to handle the situation.
"Officer Fitzpatrick will tell you he was scared," said Walker. "... He had only milliseconds to make a decision."
Walker also suggested Thompson may have made a conscious decision to exit the vehicle with the Harrington Richardson 20 gauge single shot shotgun in an effort to end his life by way of "suicide by cop."
On the night of the incident, Walker said, responding ambulance attendants drew Thompson's blood at the scene and test results showed his blood alcohol content was .14.
Walker told jurors the state hopes to see them return a guilty verdict based on the evidence he planned to present during the trial.
"In this case you will not have a problem deciding that the evidence here proves it."
'This is outrageous'
"This case is a lot more complicated than what was just told to you," said Peterson during his opening. "This is a case of an abnormal condition of the mind."
Peterson said after Thompson graduated from Belfast Area High School in 2003, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps because it was a tradition in his family. Thompson went on to serve in Iraq — once in 2004 and again in 2005. Thompson was honorably discharged in 2007, Peterson said, but has continued to suffer long after his service ended.
"This case is full of what happened in Iraq," said Peterson.
Peterson said Thompson has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is directly related to his military service, and when he presents defense witnesses Tuesday, Oct. 30, the jury would hear from psychological experts who have treated his client.
"It's about how he got to where this happened," said Peterson.
Peterson said the jury would view the video from Fitzpatrick's cruiser, adding that it's quite rare for the court to be able to provide jurors with an instant replay of what occurred on the night in question.
"It's not a fun thing to watch; you're going to see a police officer in the video shooting my client," said Peterson.
And while the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Thompson did commit the crimes as the state alleged, Peterson said the defense plans to present evidence to show Thomson's innocence.
"Because this is outrageous," said Peterson.
Peterson said the burden of proof standard for the prosecution may seem unfair, but he reminded the jury of all the resources the state has at its disposal in order to prove its case — everyone from police officers to forensic experts.
If the state cannot prove his client is guilty, he said, it's not because the burden on the state is too great.
"It's because they shouldn't have brought these charges to begin with," said Peterson. "I am confident you're going to say he is not guilty of these criminal acts."