Jurors deadlock on most serious charge against Swanville veteran shot by police officer

Benjamin Thompson of Swanville stands next to defense counsel Steven Peterson on Tuesday afternoon in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.
Benjamin Thompson of Swanville stands next to defense counsel Steven Peterson on Tuesday afternoon in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.
Posted Oct. 30, 2012, at 2 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 30, 2012, at 7:03 p.m.
Benjamin Thompson
Waldo County Jail
Benjamin Thompson

BELFAST, Maine — After deliberating for more than four hours Tuesday afternoon at Waldo County Superior Court, jurors deadlocked on the most serious charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon levied against Iraq War veteran Benjamin Thompson.

The jury found the 28-year-old Swanville man guilty, however, of three other misdemeanor charges — having a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants and failure to stop. They found that Thompson was not guilty of the charge of the threatening display of a weapon.

Thompson was on trial at Waldo County Superior Court on five charges stemming from an incident on the night of June 8 that ended with Thompson being shot four times in the thigh and stomach by Officer Dan Fitzpatrick of the Belfast Police Department. On Monday, the first day of the criminal trial, jurors watched a video that showed Thompson getting shot and then writhing on the ground in pain for nearly 15 minutes until the ambulance arrived. Although Thompson — and the loaded 20-gauge shotgun that Fitzpatrick said was aimed at him at close range — were mostly out of the frame of the police cruiser video camera, the gun is shown falling from his hands as he collapses.

Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said after the jurors returned the deadlocked verdict that he will wait until the jury is finally dismissed by the court and then contact some of the 10 women and two men to see if he can determine how the deadlock occurred. Then he will decide if he wants to have a retrial on the single charge. The decision depended on the jurors determining the mental state of Thompson, which was not a simple matter, Walker said.

“Everybody going into this trial knew there was going to be a battle over the mental state. It’s complex,” he said. “In some ways, the video left more questions than answers about what happened that night.”

If Walker does not want to pursue a retrial, the felony charge simply will be dismissed.

“I felt strongly that we needed a felony conviction so that Mr. Thompson will not have the ability to possess a firearm ever again,” the prosecutor said.

Thompson declined to speak with the BDN on Tuesday evening as he left the courthouse with family and friends.

“We were trying to establish that at the time of the shooting, my client was in an acute mental state,” said defense attorney Steven Peterson. “He was really suicidal. He did not intend to threaten anybody other than himself.”

The attorney had told the jurors during his closing arguments Tuesday morning that his client had been in an “abnormal state of mind” that night. His client suffered so badly from post-traumatic stress disorder after his tours of duty with the U.S. Marines that he sometimes slept with a knife and was driving around Waldo County that night with the stated intention of killing himself, Peterson said.

“Being suicidal is not what most normal people do,” Peterson said. “It is an example of an abnormal condition of mind.”

But Walker, the prosecutor, said Thompson acted deliberately after stopping for police on Swan Lake Avenue and Smart Road.

“There’s one thing Mr. Thompson did not have the right to do. Drink to the point of being intoxicated and drive with a loaded 20-gauge shotgun on the seat beside him, with the hammer cocked back … Most importantly, he did not have the right to point the loaded shotgun at Officer Dan Fitzpatrick.”

Thompson did not take the stand in his own defense during the second day of the trial, being presided over Tuesday by Justice Robert Murray. But the defendant listened quietly as several others, including a veterans’ counselor, his ex-wife and his psychiatric nurse from Togus talked about his post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and mental health history.

Robert Daisey, who counseled him at least every other week until the shooting, said that Thompson was having a very hard time dealing with his mental troubles but that he seemed to be making progress a few weeks before the incident.

“He had gotten back together with his wife. He’d completely stopped drinking — or at least he was telling me that. He’d contacted the Wounded Warrior project and was going to go back to school,” Daisey said.

But things apparently had fallen apart for Thompson that night. The Marine wasn’t sleeping well and was suffering from anxiety and “hypervigilance,” a condition where he had a heightened startle response, Daisey said.

“He talked at times of very strong intrusive memories,” he said.

Andrew Wisch, a forensic psychologist who interviewed Thompson at length after the shooting to try to determine his mental state, said the Marine told him he had been driving around that night and texting his then-wife that he was going to go to her home and kill himself there.

Thompson faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on the most serious charge.

After the jurors stepped forward one by one to say that they could not reach a unanimous decision on the charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon after several hours of deliberation, Murray told them they clearly had taken their role seriously.

“Obviously, you’ve spent a great deal of time on your deliberations,” he said before dismissing them.

The tentative sentencing date for the Class E convictions of possession of a loaded firearm and failing to stop for an officer and Class D conviction of operating under the influence has been set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Waldo County Superior Court. Class E crimes carry a penalty of as much as 180 days in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Class D crimes carry a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison and as much as $2,000 in fines.

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