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BREAKING UPDATE: The jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY for the charges of criminal sexual abuse against Patrick Thompson. After an hour of closing statements by Attorney Kirchner, where he stepped the jury through the significant discrepancies between the stories of the accusers, the police report, and the witnesses, the jury deliberated for about 70 minutes before rendering a "not guilty" verdict. The more serious charges of home invasion were dropped by the judge two days ago in a directed verdict.
Patrick sobbed upon hearing the verdict, later hugging his wife and saying "it's over ... it's over." His attorney, Bob Kirchner, ushered about a twenty supporters out of the courtroom out of respect for the accuser. Supporters, most of whom had been attending parts of the the trial all week, gathered outside the courthouse. Deacon Clayborn and Rev. Underwood repeatedly shouted "Praise the Lord!" while Patrick Thompson and his attorneys gave interviews to the press. Ms. Wyman, who has worked tirelessly on this case for 9 months, looked exhausted as she left the courthouse. "I have to prepare for another case for Monday" she said. One supporter said: "I didn't think justice could be found in Champaign County for a black man accused of a sex crime he did not commit, but today, we saw that it is possible."
On Monday, May 12, 2008, the third trial of Patrick Thompson began with no coverage in the mainstream media. The local press took great interest in 2004 when two black activists, Patrick Thompson and Martel Miller, produced the copwatch video Citzen’s Watch and, as a result, were charged with felony eavesdropping. On August 23, 2004, Miller was charged with the eavesdropping, and the very next day, August 24, 2004, Thompson was charged with sexual abuse and home invasion. A white woman who lived next to Thompson alleged that he entered her apartment at approximately 7 a.m. in the morning and attempted to rape her.
The same Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson who was directly involved in stopping Thompson and Miller from videotaping police (and is currently named in a civil lawsuit), was the same person who convinced a grand jury that Thompson should be indicted for these allegations. In the 2004 elections, Dobson was ousted from office, along with the John Piland administration, and the flimsy eavesdropping charges were eventually dropped. Media interest in these two black activists waned, but the charges against Thompson remained.
Dissatisfied with his initial attorney, Bruce Ratcliffe, Thompson made the bold decision to defend himself in the first trial. He faced Special Prosecutor Michael Vujovich, appointed after newly-elected State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, who was elected with the help of Thompson and Miller, broke her promise to drop all the charges against Thompson and withdrew herself from the case. Although Thompson had no formal legal training, the first trial ended in a hung jury.
Vujovich decided to retry the case. This time, Thompson hired local African American attorney Harvey Welch, who called only one witness for the defense, and the second trial resulted in a guilty verdict. At this point, attorneys Bob Kirchner and Ruth Wyman stepped in, filed a post-trial motion, and in a rare court decision, Judge Harry Clem reversed the guilty verdict claiming that Thompson had received ineffective assistance of counsel.
This brings us to the current third trial, expected to run the entire week of May 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Courtroom A at the Champaign County Courthouse. Bob Kirchner and Ruth Wyman are representing Thompson.
Jury selection began with an unusually large jury pool. Since no other trials were set for this week, 81 jurors, twice the usual size, were called as potential jurors. Still, among them there were only four African Americans, only a lousy 5% of the jury pool. By the close of Monday, four of the jurors were chosen.
In the questioning of the prospective jurors, Kirchner made one objection. When addressing a juror, Vujovich had asked if they could accept that this case rose and fell on the testimony of one woman. Kirchner objected and Judge Clem sustained, saying that this was a “misstatement.” This case depends on the testimony of several witnesses who will testify in the coming days.
Absent in the courtroom during jury selection was Mary Schenk, courtroom reporter for the News-Gazette. Last week, Patrick Thompson attended the sentencing of Brian Chesley (found guilty of getting beat up by the Champaign police). During a recess, Schenk had the gall to approach Thompson and ask him if there was going to be anything new in the third trial, because she was planning on being absent. Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice sent a letter to the editorial board of the News-Gazette requesting that Schenk attend the trial in its entirety (ucimc.org/node/2898). Schenk showed up for the first 15 minutes of the hearing on Monday and then left.
Among new witnesses in the third trial will be Bruce Ratcliffe, Thompson’s first attorney, who was outraged after receiving a subpoena from Special Prosecutor Vujovich.
Jury selection continues Tuesday morning, opening arguments will follow, and witnesses are set to begin testimony Tuesday afternoon.
For more see, “More Testimony Comes to Light in Post-trial Motion for Patrick Thompson”: