Jury Hangs In Trial For Man Who Killed John Hernandez With Choke Hold
On July 24, 2017, I blogged about the strangling death of John Hernandez. Two persons were charged; Terry Thompson and his wife, Harris County Deputy Sheriff Chauna Thompson.
John Hernandez was at a Denny’s restaurant on May 28, 2017 in a town not far from Houston. Wait staff said he was celebrating his soccer team winning and was drunk, but he was not behaving belligerently. Terry Thompson engaged John outside of the restaurant, who Thompson accused of urinating in public. Thompson’s daughter called her mom, Chauna Thompson, who was off-duty.
Terry beat John who landed on the ground and then Terry proceeded to place John in a choke hold and got on John’s back. Chauna arrived and pinned down one of John’s arms. His other armed was underneath him. On her knees, Chauna yelled at Hernandez to “stay the f— down.” Her husband said to Hernandez: “Do you want me to hit you again?”
After paramedics arrived, John Hernandez was rushed to the hospital. Some witnesses say that it took paramedics 40 minutes to arrive. John was brain dead, went into a coma and died three days later.
A by-stander filmed the incident.
On June 8, 2017, the Thompson’s were indicted for murder. Chauna Thompson was suspended without pay.
Terry Thompson was the first to go to trial which began on June 13, 2018. A jury of nine men, one Black, and six women were seated. It was unclear if any of the jurors were Latino.
Prosecutors told jurors that Thompson didn’t tell police that night that he feared for his life or thought he was going to die. Instead, the prosecutor said the night was a tale of two fights: the fight of Terry Thompson against John Hernandez and Hernandez’s fight for his life. Terry alleged that John hit him first. The reasonable response was not to choke John until he stopped breathing.
Ryan Staiger is the man who recorded the confrontation on his cellphone video. Click2Houston reports:
“He said he shot the video with his phone after he realized that Terry Thompson was too large for him to personally remove from on top of Hernandez.”
“Staiger said he considered getting a gun out of his car, but decided against it when he heard Terry Thompson’s teen daughter say her mother, then a Harris County sheriff’s deputy, was on the way.”
“(It) wasn’t even a fight,” Staiger said. “This was just unfair … the size and the way he had him pinned.”
“Staiger described the scene as chaotic. He said a man in a leather jacket, as well as the Thompsons’ daughter, tried to stop him from shooting video that was about a minute long. He said his battery was dying and he could not shoot more. “
“Staiger said he felt Hernandez’s life was in danger because Hernandez could not fight back, and was grunting and gasping for air. “
“He was trying to restrain him harder than would be logical force,” Staiger said.”
At trial, prosecutors showed a photo of Thompson’s injured left eye. Thompson alleged that Hernandez hit him first and was the aggressor. The deputy testifying said he requested assault charges against Hernandez as the primary aggressor. The deputy said he did not know that Hernandez was, at the time, brain dead at the hospital.
Assault charges were dismissed against Hernandez after the bystander video of the confrontation surfaced.
Prosecutors also argued that Thompson was the aggressor because he took it upon himself to approach and engage the intoxicated Hernandez for urinating in the parking lot.
The jury had four options to weigh. They could have found Terry Thompson not guilty, or guilty of murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. After 29 hours and 33 minutes of deliberations, the jury could not agree on an unanimous decision and hung. A mistrial was declared by Judge Kelli Johnson.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg plans to retry Terry Thompson. The date for the retrial is still being determined.
Scot Courtney, Thompson’s attorney, said the jury voted 11-1 not guilty on murder, 10-2 not guilty on manslaughter and 8-4 not guilty on criminally negligent homicide. He said all 12 jurors agreed that self-defense law applied but two jurors could not acquit Thompson.
After the mistrial was declared, protestors marched in downtown Houston, saying they believe the racial component of Hernandez’s killing cannot be overlooked.
“We asked for justice, we gave a great explanation of what you all saw on the video. Violence against someone who looks like me,” one protestor said.
Many of those protestors are calling for changes to the prosecution for Thompson’s new trial.
Chauna Thompson is scheduled to stand trial in October.
Previous to their marriage, Chauna and Terry were involved in a paternity case and according to documents filed with the court, Chauna alleged that Terry has anger problems.