By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) – The husband of a former sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Wednesday for the strangulation death of a man the couple confronted outside a Houston-area restaurant.
Prosecutors argued Terry Thompson wanted to kill 24-year-old John Hernandez and kept him in a chokehold even when he stopped resisting after Thompson confronted Hernandez about urinating in the parking lot of a Denny’s restaurant in May 2017.
Thompson’s attorney countered he was only defending himself after being punched and kept Hernandez subdued only until he stopped resisting.
Jurors denied a request by Thompson’s attorney to find that he acted with sudden passion and was unable to control his anger – which would have made him eligible for a lesser sentence of two years to 20 years. The same jury, which deliberated his sentence for about seven hours on Wednesday, had convicted Thompson of murder on Monday.
Thompson’s wife, former Harris County sheriff’s deputy Chauna Thompson, arrived later at the restaurant and helped subdue Hernandez. Chauna Thompson, who was off duty at the time and was later fired, faces a murder trial in April. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg called Thompson’s sentence appropriate and said she hoped the case would deter people from resorting to violence to resolve their conflicts.
“We have a lot of ways of dealing with one another civilly. That’s what I think our country’s been saying in so many ways as of recent times,” Ogg said. “This is just another lesson that things are never resolved successfully through violence – never.”
Thompson’s family, including his wife, declined to comment after the jury’s verdict.
Scot Courtney, Thompson’s attorney, said he was disappointed by the sentence.
During a victim impact statement after the verdict was announced, Maria Toral, Hernandez’s wife, told Thompson that she didn’t want to live her life hating him.
“But if you repent for what you did, I will forgive you,” Toral said as she stared at Thompson, who remained silent.
Outside the courtroom, Ignacio Hernandez, the victim’s father, said he would have wanted a longer sentence for Thompson but he accepted the jury’s decision. Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence.
During closing arguments in the trial’s punishment phase earlier Wednesday, Courtney asked jurors for a sentence that would allow his client to one day return to his family. He described Thompson as someone who was friendly, hardworking and dedicated to his children.
“Terry Thompson is a good man. Did he make a bad decision and a bad mistake? There is no question of that,” Courtney said.
But prosecutor John Jordan told jurors Thompson didn’t deserve their mercy as he had a history of losing his temper and assaulting his children.
Jordan said there was no sudden passion in Thompson’s actions, as he confronted Hernandez for 14 minutes, including keeping him in a chokehold for more than three minutes, even after Hernandez had signaled that he was no longer resisting.
“What mercy did he have when his own wife got to the scene and said, ‘Get off (Hernandez)’?” Jordan said. “How in the world can you give him what he was not willing to give to another human being?”
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.
This was the second time Thompson’s case was before a jury. His first trial in June ended with a hung jury.
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