Terry Thompson to face judge, jury again for sentencing

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HOUSTON – Terry Thompson faced a judge and jury for his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning. Thomas faces up to life in prison.

According to KPRC2 Legal Analyst Brian Wice, the jury can use anything the judge deems relevant – including conduct or anything else going back to his high school days – in order to assess the appropriate punishment.

"The penalty stage is also where Terry Thompson could present mitigating evidence," Wice said. "Anything that the judge thinks will guide the jury. I think we will see family, friends and co-workers."

In court Tuesday, a teary-eyed Thompson mouthed the words, "I love you," taking moments to wipe tears throughout the sentencing.

Thompson was found guilty of murder in the Denny's confrontation case after the jury reached a verdict Monday afternoon.

Prosecutors are vowing to ask for a lot of time.

"Three things stand out (about the case)," Wice said. "One, whatever sentence he receives he will have to serve 50 percent of that sentence before he takes a peek at the parole board. Two, probation is not an option. Three, (there will be) no appeal bond. Terry Thompson will be appealing this sentence from the penitentiary."

Thompson and his wife, Chauna, a former Harris County deputy, were each charged with murder in the May 28, 2017, death of John Hernandez after a confrontation outside Denny’s restaurant on Crosby Freeway in northeast Houston.

Thompson’s first trial ended in a mistrial after 11 of 12 jurors decided he was not guilty of murder. Ten decided he was also not guilty of the lesser manslaughter charge. Eight jurors decided Thompson was not even guilty of the lowest possible charge -- criminally negligent homicide.

Tuesday, in roughly six hours of witness testimony, prosecuting attorneys dug into Thompson's records, calling on six witnesses who dealt with his past. The defense started by calling a Harris County Sheriff's Office Custodian of Jail Records who wrote the record on a previous car burglary incident from when Thompson was 17 years old. 

One of the witnesses was a neighbor who said in 2014, Thompson's son had run out of the house telling the witness to call 911 because his father was allegedly "beating on him," according to the witness.

The prosecution called a law enforcement official who checked on that situation, who said that he heard yelling and banging inside the house. The law enforcement official said Thompson was initially not cooperative, saying that he did not comply to get checked for weapons outside his home when asked by law enforcement officials. The witness said that he had to threaten Thompson with mace in order to get him to cooperate. According to that witness, who interviewed the son during the investigation, Thompson's son told the investigator that his father had choked him and hurt him before.

The prosecution also called on the son's former pre-K teacher, who said she worked with Thompson's son when he was 4 to 5 years old. The witness testified that she had seen bruises on the child's lower back in April 2005. She said the next day he had come to school with a skinned forehead and a note from his mother that he had been hurt by a football. The witness said she also saw a foot injury and later reported it.

A witness who works with CPS and had received the report from the teacher about the 2005 incident said Thompson had admitted hitting his son with a belt because his son hit his sister. 

The defense challenged the witnesses' credibility and claimed that in the 2014 incident, there were records showing that the child had said to his friends that he wanted to get his father in trouble because he was tired of being grounded and wanted to go out with his friends.

The defense also called on witnesses including Thompson's co-worker, who said Thompson's work ethic inspired him to work harder. The co-worker said Thompson was work ethic was always there to help people in need. 

The defense also called on Thompson's brother-in-law's father, who considered Thompson a good friend. That witness who knew Thompson for three years, said Thompson was a "dedicated" and "protective" father who loved his children deeply and always put them first. That witness also said "his work ethic is incredible."

Another witness, who was a member of Thompson's church member, said he helped baptized Thompson. He told the jury that Thompson loved his children and that it was very apparent. 

Finally, the defense called on Thompson's cousin, who also echoed Thompson's good character and love of family.

Both sides called all of their witnesses to the stand. Court will resume 9:30 a.m Wednesday.

About the Authors:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.

Award-winning journalist, proud immigrant, happy wife, beaming mom. Addicted to coffee. Love to laugh.