Jury dismissed for night at murder trial of Terry Thompson
HOUSTON – The jury at the trial of Terry Thompson was dismissed for the night around 9 p.m. and will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Friday.
Thompson left the courtroom having to wait at least another day before learning his fate in a murder trial that has gained international attention.
Thompson, and his wife, Chauna, a former Harris County deputy, are each charged with murder in connection with the death of John Hernandez after a May 28, 2017, confrontation outside a Denny’s restaurant on Crosby Freeway in northeast Houston.
After a few hours of initial deliberations the jury opted for another session of discussions.
Shortly after the jury left the courtroom, family and friends of John Hernandez gathered in the hallway outside the courtroom. Hernandez’ sister said she hoped for a guilty conviction.
"If they let him free, he can do that to somebody else -- to another family -- to someone else," Jasmine Hernandez said.
The jury was handed the case after hearing more than two hours of instructions and closing arguments. Thompson never testified.
During closing arguments, Prosecutor Jules Johnson said Thompson was on top of Hernandez until there was no life left inside Hernandez.
"What do you think he intends when you put him in a choke hold? What did you think was going to happen?" Johnson said. "The reason that we have courtrooms is so that when somebody breaks the law they can come here. They can hash it out, so that it's not hashed out in front of a Denny's on Crosby Highway. That's not where we decide who lives and who dies."
Defense Attorney Scot Courtney said Hernandez was drunk, drove with his daughter in the car, then punched Thompson in the eye. He said Thompson had to stop Hernandez.
"Once Terry Thompson initially defended himself, that's what he had right there. He had the tiger by the tail," Courtney said. "Mr. Thompson is presumed innocent. He is only no longer presumed innocent if and when you all agree unanimously that the state has met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt."
Prosecutors rested Wednesday after 10 hours of testimony from a specialist who described what he believed happened to Hernandez after Thompson placed him in a chokehold.
Defense attorneys spent much of Wednesday trying to discredit the specialist’s testimony, calling into question his knowledge of Texas law.
The judge told jurors Wednesday to bring packed bags to the courthouse, because they will be sequestered until they reach a verdict. It is not clear how long that might take.
Thursday a group supporting the family gathered outside the courthouse and called for justice to be served.
The Hernandez family said they have been in court every day, and it has been difficult listening to testimony about his final moments.
"It's been very hard -- looking at all the evidence, all the videos, all the pictures," said Jasmine Hernandez. "It's been very tough. We have to hear how he spent his last moments, trying to live and no one helped him. Some tried, but they couldn't do anything."
Judge Kelli Johnson told jurors they had four options for a verdict.
She said they could find Thompson not guilty or they could find him guilty of murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
"It's a good thing that the jury is getting this case on a Thursday afternoon at the close of business and not on Friday," says KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice. "That is every defense lawyer's worst nightmare, is a Friday afternoon verdict, particularly when this jury is being sequestered."
Wice said the other two guilty options are usually at the request of the defense, but not this time.
"The decision to charge this defendant with murder may ultimately have been a bridge too far. For the jury to believe that this defendant is guilty of the top count of the indictment, they essentially have to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Terry Thompson intended to cause Mr. Hernandez's death," Wice said.
The jury will remain sequestered. Johnson said they would deliberate as late as they choose.
Chauna Thompson is scheduled to stand trial in October.
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