By Patrick Brady
The courtroom gallery was filled to capacity Monday as a jury of seven women and five men announced it had convicted former emergency room doctor Christopher Thomas Thompson of assaulting a pair of cyclists last year by abruptly stopping his car in front of them.
For the first time in the trial, which spanned three weeks, cyclists outnumbered Thompson supporters in the gallery. There was a palpable tension in the room greater than any felt during the trial.
Thompson was convicted of six felonies: two counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury as well as reckless driving causing specified injury and mayhem. He was also convicted of misdemeanor reckless driving.
The six felonies stemmed from the July 4, 2008 incident with cyclists Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr. The misdemeanor was occasioned by the altercation with cyclists Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.
When the jury entered the room only one member of the panel hazarded a brief glance at the defendant; the rest looked at the judge, the attorneys or into the gallery.
When the court clerk read the verdict of “guilty” for the first count, reckless driving causing specified injury, Thompson’s head slumped. He then raised it and waited for the verdict in the second count, battery with serious bodily injury. “Guilty,” the clerk said and this time Thompson’s head dropped, chin to chest. He did not lift his head for the rest of the verdicts, all guilty.
When the clerk finished reading off the verdicts, Thompson appeared to cry and wiped his hands under his glasses. Thompson’s attorney Peter Swarth asked that each juror be polled. One by one, each juror responded “yes,” they voted to convict Thompson on all counts.
After the verdicts, Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone ask the judge to sentence Thompson “as soon as the court’s calendar will allow.”
As a cautionary move, Swarth had earlier prepared a request to allow Thompson to remain out on bail until sentencing. Judge Scott Millington scanned the motion and asked Stone if she would like to respond to that request.
“Yes, your honor.”
Stone cited Thompson’s flight risk, his lack of ties to the area (he no longer lives or works in Los Angeles and was likely to lose his medical license soon). She then added, “In terms of public safety, there isn’t a cyclist in Los Angeles who would be comfortable if he were out on the streets.”
Judge Millington cited Thompson’s incentive to flee and the serious nature of the crimes he committed and ordered Thompson’s bail revoked and that he be remanded to custody immediately. With that, bailiffs ordered Thompson to stand, placed handcuffs on him and walked him to a holding cell.
The victims and Stone held a brief news conference outside the courthouse.
Asked if he was pleased with the verdict, Christian Stoehr said, “It was tough for me, to be honest, it’s sad for both sides. I’m glad it sends a message to the community that it is dangerous and we have to watch out, but at the end of the day, I lost a lot of my time and my life, and he’s losing a lot of his.”
Peterson was asked if he had lingering trauma from the incident. “More nervous, yes; whenever a car comes by me still — a year and three months later — I flinch, and even when I’m driving and I see brake lights in front of me, I flinch every single time,” he said.
Would this verdict make a difference in car and cyclist relations? Josh Crosby offered his perspective. “Like the sign says, share the road and be respectful of each other. If we do something wrong, you need to take responsibility for it, and I don’t think he took any responsibility for it,” he said.
Thompson will be sentenced Dec. 3. He faces a maximum of ten years in prison, but with no prior criminal record, he in unlikely to receive the maximum.