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Posted June 28, 2011 | 3 Comments
Ex-prosecutor pleads to cocaine, tampering
Attorneys in Thomson case get personal
By Preston Knight -- email@example.com
HARRISONBURG -- A certain degree of jostling can be expected when the prosecution and defense square off in court.
But that back-and-forth escalated to "vitriol" and personal attacks against the two assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the case against Winchester attorney Paul Hampton Thomson, U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said.
Speaking outside U.S. District Court on Monday morning, after Thomson pleaded guilty to five charges related to cocaine possession and tampering with evidence and witnesses, the federal attorney said the attacks by Thomson's attorney against prosecutors Grayson Hoffman and Jeb Terrien have no place in the judicial process.
On one occasion, prosecutors were accused by defense counsel John P. Flannery II of secretly collaborating with a judge, and in another, Hoffman was said to have misled a grand jury.
"I'm proud of the way they handled this case," Heaphy said of his assistants. "The facts and the truth were on the side of the government."
Thomson is a former commonwealth's attorney for the city of Winchester.
The discussions between prosecutors and Thomson's defense team, led by Flannery, ended late Sunday afternoon with the signing of a plea agreement, less than 18 hours before a five-day jury trial was to begin.
On Monday, Judge John P. Jones accepted the deal, which will put Thomson, 56, in prison for three years and two months out of a 13-year, eight-month sentence, pending a sentencing hearing Sept. 26.
"Mr. Thomson should know better," Heaphy said. "It's a sad day for Winchester. It's a sad day for law enforcement. Whenever someone [in that kind of position] starts to fall, it's a sad day."
Thomson admitted to possessing cocaine in May 2010 and destroying and altering evidence, specifically phone records, and asking witnesses, including one of his clients/suppliers, to lie to investigators about his criminal activity afterward.
Heaphy said of the five crimes Thomson admitted to -- several other counts were dismissed as part of the agreement -- the drug charge, a misdemeanor, may have been the most important because of what behavior followed.
"You see, again and again, how the cover-up is worse than the underlying crime," Heaphy said.
Thomson told the judge he was hospitalized last year after he had a nervous breakdown and that he takes medication for bipolar disorder, in addition to suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
In a prepared statement released by Flannery outside of the courthouse, the former prosecutor said the death of a young son and the 1999 shooting of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook -- a case he prosecuted, winning a death-penalty conviction -- led him in recent years to suffer with alcohol dependence and then other substance abuse problems.
His federal indictment made him seek help.
"But I still had to face up to what I had done and today I've done that," Thomson states. "I have made an agreement to pay my debt to society so I can fully recover and help my wife, Anna, to raise our three young boys. ... I apologize to those I've disappointed. But I will make it up to you in the future."
Heaphy said he hopes Thomson can recover to become a productive member of society again, and that he wasn't aware of any evidence of substance abuse from when the man served four terms as commonwealth's attorney through 2001.
Whether his future contributions to society will be as an attorney has yet to be determined.
In the next 30 to 90 days, Thomson will likely go before a disciplinary board with the Virginia State Bar, which will rule to either suspend or revoke his license, said Barbara Lanier, clerk of the disciplinary system.
In a statement of facts filed with the agreement, among Thomson's offenses was asking his assistant, Nannette Susan Boden, to prepare a script of questions and answers, in English and Spanish, for when he was to visit Oscar Salvatierra-Jovel in the Rockingham County Jail in case the meeting was recorded.
Salvatierra-Jovel was one of Thomson's clients and cocaine suppliers, with Boden buying the drug from him for her boss.
He also was asked by Thomson to lie to investigators, including about why Boden's number was in Salvatierra-Jovel's cell phone. Thomson advised that it would
Boden, 36, of Winchester, will be sentenced on two charges July 8, while Salvatierra-Jovel faces sentencing on drug charges July 26. Boden was in the courtroom Monday, if not to observe then to at least be prepared to speak against Thomson at trial.
That chance never came because of the plea agreement, the timing of which had the judge a little perturbed because about 50 potential jurors showed up and were to be compensated $40 each, plus mileage, for less than an hour of their time.
Thomson's agreement requires him to pay $5,000 in restitution to the mother of another one of his clients/suppliers, as well as a fine ranging from $7,500 to $75,000. He remains free on bond until September.