HOUSTON (AP) – A jury on Monday convicted the husband of a former sheriff’s deputy of murder for the strangulation death of a man the couple confronted outside a Houston-area restaurant.
Terry Thompson’s trial will move to its punishment phase on Tuesday, and attorneys will present additional testimony over several days before jurors deliberate a sentence. Thompson faces up to life in prison.
Prosecutors argued Thompson wanted to kill John Hernandez, 24, and kept him in a chokehold even after he stopped resisting. Thompson’s attorneys countered that he was only defending himself after being punched in the face and insisted Thompson kept Hernandez subdued only until he stopped resisting.
Prosecutors said Thompson was quickly in control of Hernandez after the two got into a scuffle when Thompson saw Hernandez urinating outside a Denny’s restaurant in Sheldon in May 2017. His wife, Chauna Thompson, 46, arrived later to help her husband restrain Hernandez. She was off-duty at the time and was later fired by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s the right outcome,” Tom Berg, first assistant district attorney for Harris County, said of the guilty verdict. “We will be asking for a lot of time because he took another man’s life.”
Terry Thompson’s attorney, Scot Courtney, declined to comment after the verdict.
It was the second time a jury had deliberated Thompson’s case. His first trial in June ended with a hung jury.
After Monday’s verdict, Hernandez’s family waited in the courtroom until Thompson, who had been free on bond, was handcuffed and taken into custody.
“The prosecutors tried the case like it was their own family. They gave us more hope that justice would be done,” said Ignacio Hernandez, John Hernandez’s father.
During closing arguments Friday, prosecutor John Jordan played cellphone video and 911 calls in which witnesses can be heard pleading for Thompson to let go of Hernandez and Hernandez can be heard gasping for air.
Jordan said that during the altercation, Hernandez signaled with his hand that he was no longer resisting but that Terry Thompson kept him in a chokehold for an additional three minutes and 36 seconds until Hernandez went limp.
“Terry Bryan Thompson did not kill John Hernandez because he had to. He killed him because he wanted to,” Jordan said.
Courtney, Thompson’s attorney, portrayed Hernandez as the aggressor, saying he was drunk and belligerent and never stopped fighting Thompson until he passed out.
Thompson was only trying to have dinner with his kids when he was attacked by Hernandez and had no intention of killing him, Courtney said.
“He doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ He says, ‘Stop!'” to Hernandez, Courtney said.
Hernandez died at a hospital three days after the confrontation. A medical examiner ruled he died of lack of oxygen to the brain caused by strangulation and chest compression.
Hernandez’s family has remained critical of the investigation, saying deputies at the scene didn’t interview potential witnesses and initially tried to have an assault charge filed against Hernandez.
Hernandez’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Thompsons, asking for at least $1 million in damages. The lawsuit is pending.
Chauna Thompson, who was also charged with murder, is set for trial in April.