N4T Investigators: Trial & Error? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Trial & Error?

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Tucson  - Most inmates say they're innocent, that they got a raw deal or were framed. That's nothing new.  But it's not often that both the defendant and the prosecution admits a mistake was made during a murder trial. The question in Lyndall Thompson's case is: Was it significant enough to change the guilty verdict?

Thompson admits he shot and killed his older stepbrother, Clark Duvall. In a phone interview from the state prison in Tucson, Thompson told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that the mistake in his case is what locked him up. He's always claimed he acted in self-defense. 

"You have just a split second to either shoot or be killed. Kill or be killed. And I fired in an effort to stay alive," Thompson said. "I love my brother now, I loved him then. I was involved in a horrible tragedy. You know we were as close as brothers can be."

It happened near their rural Green Valley home on June 29, 2007. The stepbrothers had a vicious fist fight over a family matter. Lyndall, who had no prior felony convictions, says there were guns nearby, and that Clark, nicknamed "Corky"  threatened to kill him. Corky knocked Lyndall unconscious. Lyndall says when he came to, the guns were gone so he assumed Corky had them. Lyndall went to his home, grabbed a rifle, then saw Corky about 20 feet away. 

Thompson said, "He made a quick move and came at me, and that's when I fired."  He fired at least five times.

Turned out, Corky was not armed. About which Thompson said, "I got blood pouring down my face into my eyes, I've got sweat in my eyes, and I'm facing the sun, and I'm having to make the most crucial decision I've ever made in my entire life in a millisecond, so I don't get shot and killed."

Lyndall called 911. Then 45 years-old, with no prior felony convictions, Thompson was soon charged with murdering his 50 year-old step-brother.

Thompson's trial in Pima County Superior Court took place in April of 2008 and lasted four days. The jury took less than six hours to find him guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. 

Thompson says the key mistake involved the transcript of his statement to Pima County Sheriff's detectives, the transcript the jury saw. It says, "...in the time it takes to figure out what all they got in there (sic) hands, I'm already shooting him."  However, that's not what he said.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained the audio from the interrogation. Thompson actually told detectives, "...in the time it takes to figure out what all they got in their hands, I'm already shooting you."

Thompson says he was trying to make a hypothetical statement, telling detectives they know what happens if they wait too long to see a weapon. 

What's the difference?  Thompson says the one wrong word implied to the jury, "That I shot before I should have. That change is what changed the minds of the jury because that's a criminal action."

Rick Unklesbay, Chief Trial Counsel with the Pima County Attorney's Office, strongly disagrees. "Oh, he got an absolutely fair trial," Unklesbay said. He acknowledges the transcript mistake, but says Thompson was guilty. He said, "There was no dispute that the transcriptions were different in some respect. The trial judge, and the Court of Appeals, both ruled that the transcripts, one, were not the evidence and two, weren't significant enough to grant a new trial."  Earlier this month, the Attorney General's office said basically the same thing in responding to Thompson's latest appeal. 

The detectives who interrogated Thompson declined interviews, through a sheriff's department spokesman. The public defender who represented Thompson at his trial did not return our calls. 

Phoenix area attorney Steve Manion once handled an estate matter for Thompson. While not representing him in his current appeal, Manion is working for Thompson on his own, because he believes justice was not served.

Manion said, "What the jury heard was 'I knew he didn't have a gun and I shot him anyway.'"

Unklesbay said, "Maybe people differ about what it was that he was saying, but the jury got to listen to the tape and play it as many times as they wanted to. And everybody said he got a fair trial based on the totality of the evidence that was presented to the jury."

We could not find any jurors from the 2008 trial. 

We asked Thompson, "If the jury heard what you actually said, your hypothetical statement that if you wait, they're already shooting you, do you think you would have been found not guilty?" He answered, without hesitation, "I do, I do."

Thompson, 54, has lost two appeals and his case, with a different lawyer, is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could take several months to make a decision. His scheduled release date from prison is 2023.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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