Friday, June 05, 2009

Saucy Jack

This post is about a case that doesn’t raise any interesting legal issues. It’s just really creepy, so I decided to write about it.

The case is Thompson v. State, 2009 WL 1382020 (Court of Appeals of Texas – Houston 2009). Earl Thompson appealed his conviction for stalking (and for unlawfully carrying a weapon in a liquor-licensed premises, but we’re not interested in that one), which arose from these facts:
On October 25, 2006, [Thompson] began sending Suzi Hanks, a Houston radio personality, a series of strange and threatening emails. The emails included references to guns, Jack the Ripper, and a bronze chariot; they also contained sexual innuendos. In the emails, [Thompson] used the names Earl Thompson, Mystery Knight, Knights Elite, Saucy Jack, Black Jack, and Jack Porns. These emails made Hanks `very afraid,’ and she told her supervisor about them and reported the situation to the Pasadena Police Department. Hanks did not respond to any of the emails, which prompted [Thompson] to make numerous unsuccessful attempts to telephone her at the radio station where she worked.

On October 31, 2006, Hanks's radio station planned a live broadcast from Vito's Deck House to promote a Halloween costume contest. When Hanks arrived, she told the promotion workers who were already there about the emails, and let them know that she was nervous about the situation. When she walked in, she saw a man in a booth dressed in black, and he `immediately made eye contact with [her] and got kind of very excited.’ Concerned, Hanks told the promotion workers there was a `guy sitting in the booth’ and asked them to keep an eye on her.

As they broadcasted, people came by to pick up . . . promotional items. Eventually, [Thompson], who indeed was the `guy sitting in the booth,’ approached the table and introduced himself as `Jack Porns.’ Hanks was `petrified.’ She gave him a t-shirt and tried to get him to leave. After [Thompson] walked away, Hanks was so frightened that she went out to her car to get her gun, for which she had a concealed-handgun license. In the parking lot, she saw a bronze Lincoln Town Car in a handicapped parking space and was reminded of the email references to a bronze chariot. At that point, Hanks realized the emails from Jack Porns and Earl Thompson were from the same person.

Hanks called 911, and while she was speaking to the dispatcher, she saw a police car and flagged it down. As she was talking to the police officer, the promotion workers came outside and handed her a threatening note that [Thompson] had given them. While they were talking, a waitress came out and handed them a note she had found in the restroom, which was a poem about Jack the Ripper.

The officer called for assistance, and when the other officers arrived, they detained [Thompson]. [He] had a concealed-handgun permit, and officers found a loaded Derringer handgun in his pocket. The officers arrested [him] for unlawfully carrying a weapon inside a bar, and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back. [Thompson] requested that he be handcuffed in front, but his request was denied. Later, at the jail, officers discovered that [he] had concealed a second handgun in a `pouch that covered his crotch.’ Additionally, in a black bag [Thompson] had with him, police found a pair of rubber gloves and a steak knife.
Thompson v. State, supra.

As I said, Thompson was charged with stalking Hanks. The Texas stalking statute provides as follows:
(a) A person commits an offense if the person, on more than one occasion and pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct that is directed specifically at another person, knowingly engages in conduct, including following the other person, that:

(1) the actor knows or reasonably believes the other person will regard as threatening:
(A) bodily injury or death for the other person; . . .
(2) [omitted]; . . . [or]
(3) would cause a reasonable person to fear:
(A) bodily injury or death for himself or herself;
(B) bodily injury or death for a member of the person's family or household; or
(C) that an offense will be committed against the person's property.
Texas Penal Code § 42.072(a).

For some reason I cannot fathom, Thompson pled not guilty and went to trial on the stalking charge. At trial, he
took the stand in his defense, and, although he stated that he did not intend the emails to be threatening, he admitted that he sent them to Hanks and that he `kept calling’ her at the radio station. He also admitted that he asked someone at Vito's to hand Hanks the threatening note referencing Jack the Ripper, and that he had a handgun with him when he went to Vito's.
Thompson v. State, supra.

After being convicted, he appealed his conviction on two grounds, both procedural. In one, he claimed the trial court judge made “an incorrect statement of law to the jury venire during the voir dire process.” Thompson v. State, supra. As Wikipedia notes, the venire is the jury pool, the group of potential jurors from whom the jurors who will decide a case are chosen. As Wikipedia also notes, voir dire is the process of choosing trial jurors from the venire. Thompson pointed out that the trial judge told the venire that if someone had been convicted of prostitution, they were disqualified from serving as a juror. That apparently was an error, but the Court of Appeals held that since Thompson did not raise the issue at trial, he was foreclosed from raising it on appeal.

The other issue was that one of the officers who arrested Thompson testified that he said nothing about the second gun (the one in his crotch) during the 30-45 minute drive to the station. Thompson pointed out that commenting on a defendant’s post-arrest silence violated both the Fifth Amendment and the comparable provision of the Texas state Constitution. Thompson v. State, supra.

The Texas Court of Appeals rejected this argument because the trial judge immediately instructed the jury to disregard what the officer said. At that point, Thompson moved for a mistrial, which the trial judge denied. On appeal, he claimed the judge should have granted his motion for a mistrial, but the Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the instruction was adequate and was given promptly and “nothing . . . suggests that the trial court’s instruction was not adequate” to ensure that the jurors did not consider what the officer had said. The Court of Appeals also found that the error was not reversible error because “the State’s case against appellant was overwhelming.” Thompson v. State, supra. It reviewed the facts outlined at the beginning of this post – all of which were proved at trial – and the testimony Thompson gave, in which he basically admitted doing all of it. The court therefore upheld his conviction.

As I said, there aren’t any novel or interesting legal issues in this case, just a really creepy set of facts.

I also find it interesting that Mr. Thompson – who apparently idolizes Jack the Ripper – seems to have missed the fact that the Ripper was never caught because he managed to maintain a very low profile. Makes you wonder if Thompson was trying to get caught.

File this one under amazingly inept cybercriminals.

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