Tag Archive for Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone

Evil on trial: Mandeville driver may testify Wednesday

Attorneys will tell you than no defense lawyer wants to put his client on the stand in a criminal trial.

It’s usually considered the last resort, in hopes that the defendant and his story will appear sympathetic to the jury, despite the inherent risks in exposing the defendant to cross-examination.

And it looks like that’s exactly what will happen Wednesday in the Mandeville Canyon case. On both counts.

Dr. Christopher Thompson and his attorney may take the stand to try and spin the events of July 4, 2008 in his favor. If they do, the prosecutor has shown every indication of being willing to go after him as aggressively as necessary.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who was in the courtroom again yesterday afternoon, it looks like the trial will go to the jury late Wednesday or Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the testimony presented on Monday appears to be setting up an appearance by the defendant himself.

Since any good lawyer will want to end with a bang, that means Thompson is likely to be the defense’s final witness, unless scheduling issues force Peter Swarth, the Good Doctor’s lawyer, to follow with someone else.

It’s just a guess. But it’s an informed guess, from a lawyer who’s been closely following the Mandeville Canyon case.

So mark your calendar.

It could be the perfect opportunity to kick off your Halloween weekend with something truly horrifying.

“The laws of physics just don’t allow it.”

Unfortunately, DJwheels had to tend to his own legal practice on Monday.

As a result, he missed the first hour of defense testimony, and wasn’t sure about the exact name of the first witness called by Swarth — a highly paid expert witness specializing in accident reconstruction.

He presented two animations offering a 2-dimensional bird’s eye view showing how the accident could have happened. The first was based on statements provided by Chris Roberts, the cyclist Peterson and Stoehr had just passed prior to their encounter with Thompson; Swarth claimed he had the best perspective of the events. The second was based on Dr. Thompson’s version of events, setting up his potential testimony.

However, the witness conceded under cross-examination that the Thompson animation was based on information provided by Swarth, rather than actual police statements or interviews with the doctor.

He testified that Roberts had said Thompson was traveling at about 40 mph — 10 miles over the posted speed limit — when the Good Doctor passed him before encountering the other two riders. (So much for Thompson’s claim that the cyclists were riding “three abreast.”)

By his estimation, that allowed about 2.3 seconds between the time the brakes were applied and the moment of impact with the rear of Thompson’s car. The second animation allowed even more time, 3.4 seconds, due to Thompson’s estimate that he’d been traveling at 45 mph.

In his opinion, either estimate provided enough time for both riders to see the brake lights and respond in time to avoid collision — making the collision their fault, rather than that of the doctor who told police he did it to “teach them a lesson.”

Evidently, he’s never tried to stop a bike going downhill at 30 mph.

Asked why he didn’t prepare a 3rd animation based on Peterson and Stoehr’s statements, he said the way they described the events couldn’t have happened. “The laws of physics just don’t allow it,” he said, adding “it would have been a cartoon.”

Under cross-examination by assistant D.A. Mary Stone, he was asked if he discounted the fact that Thompson had made an “abrupt and aggressive” move in front of the cyclists before slamming on his brakes. According to DJwheels, he tried to evade the question before conceding, “I can’t show aggression in an animation.”

Stone pressed him further, showing him the infamous photo of the back of the Good Doctor’s Lexus, and asking if he agreed that Thompson had “slammed” on the brakes, causing the damage seen in the photo. Again, he tried to evade the question, but eventually conceded the point. “I’m denying that it was the sole cause, not that it was any cause.”

He also admitted that he would receive about $40,000 for his testimony and preparation for trial — with the clear implication that he would not have been paid to testify if his conclusions didn’t support the defense.

“They both slapped the car as they passed”

The next witness was Jody Fitz, who was a passenger in the car when the Good Doctor had the earlier encounter with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.

According to Fitz, they were headed down the canyon when they came up behind two cyclists riding side-by-side on Mandeville Canyon. Thompson tried to pass them, but couldn’t due to oncoming traffic.

However, a second attempt was more successful; Fitz said Thompson rolled down the passenger window as they passed, extended his arm and index finger, and yell out “Ride single file!”

The cyclists responded by flipping the bird and yelling something he couldn’t make out. According to Fitz, when Thompson made a “normal, controlled stop,” the cyclists passed on either side, both slapping the car as they passed. He contradicted Watson’s earlier testimony that he bunny hopped the curb, saying neither rider ever left the roadway.

He said both riders dismounted and began to approach the car; he thought there would be a fight until Thompson stepped on the gas and took off.

Under cross, Stone was able to point out a number of contradictions between his testimony and the statement he had give to the police. For instance, he told a police detective that the car hadn’t passed close to the cyclists, claiming the distance was great enough that the riders wouldn’t have been able to touch the car — despite his claim that both slapped the vehicle after it braked to a stop.

He also testified that, following the confrontation, neither he nor Thompson said anything about it until later that evening; however, he told police that Thompson had been muttering angrily afterwards, saying something like “those son of a bitches flipped me off.” And he denied saying that Thompson had stopped at the next stop sign to “see what he could do about them.”

Two witnesses with nothing much to say

The day ended with brief testimony from two other witnesses.

Dr. John Uphold, the Good Doctor’s former partner/employer, was asked about the period between December 2007 and January 2008 when Thompson is suspected to braking in front of Patrick Early, who had been riding up Mandeville Canyon when a car matching Thompson’s slammed on the brakes in front of him.

He testified that the Good Doctor had often been out of town on business or visiting family during that period, implying that it couldn’t have been his car. However, he was forced to admit that he wasn’t in the car on those days when Thompson was in town, so he had no way of knowing what might have happened then.

He was followed by LAPD Detective Phillip Enbody, the senior lead officer in the Brentwood area. He was asked if he was aware of any tension between cyclists and residents in Mandeville Canyon, and if he had advised residents to use cameras to document any problems with cyclists.

“Not exactly,” he said, adding that he made that suggestion in response to complaints about people walking their dogs off leash.

Testimony continues today with the woman to whom Det. Enbody supposedly made that suggestion, along with another expert witness and a second police officer.

………

Dr. Alex urges cyclists to attend this weekend’s DIY bike plan session with the Bike Working Group, while Enci explains why she hates L.A. bike lanes. The Times reports on an off-road fat tire fest in the hills above L.A. In a refreshing change, a Folsom driver apologizes to the cyclist he didn’t see on his way to work. As usual, WA police hope to keep cyclists safe by targeting riders, rather than the people who hit them. Eugene celebrates its new Gold Bike-Friendly award. The widow of the New Zealand rider killed by a hat-trick drunk driver demands changes in the law to keep drunks off the road. Town Mouse says this is what Scottish cyclists need instead of bike lanes. Finally, Newt Gingrich, the student cyclist’s friend? Really?

Evil on trial: testimony begins in the Mandeville Canyon case

The defense strategy is starting to come in focus.

Based on his cross examination, Peter Swarth, attorney for Dr. Christopher Thompson, intends to paint a picture of a canyon plagued by angry, out of control cyclists. And portray the Good Doctor as their unfortunate, and innocent, victim — three times, no less.

That message is reinforced by the noticeable presence of two large bodyguards in the courtroom, suggesting that Thompson is the one who is in danger from cyclists, rather than the other way around.

As both the Times and VeloNews reported, testimony began with Christian Stoehr, one of the two cyclists seriously injured on the 4th of July last year when the Good Doctor pulled in front of them and slammed on his brakes.

Stoehr described how he hit the back of Thompson’s car when the doctor cut in front of them and slammed on his brakes, rolling over the top of the car and falling into the street. But when he had trouble explaining exactly how that occurred, Swarth suggested that maybe he simply fell over.

You know, ‘cause experienced cyclists do that a lot.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, the other rider, Ron Peterson, went into more detail, describing how they had passed a slower rider shortly before they heard a car approach from behind. When Stoehr called out “Car back!,” Peterson responded by taking single file position in front.

The driver, later identified as a Thompson, yelled out “Ride single file;” Peterson responded with “Fuck you!” He said Thompson then cut over and braked to a stop about five feet in front of them. Because of their downhill speed, a collision was unavoidable; after striking the car, Peterson flew forward into the car’s rear windshield.

“My face did that,” he said, pointing to a large hole in the glass in a photo of the scene. “And that’s my blood.”

Under cross examination, Peterson admitted that after extricating himself from the glass, he told Thompson to “Get the fuck away from me,” adding “I’m going to fuck you up!”

“I said it,” Peterson admitted. “I’m not proud.”

That exchange is important, both because it points to the anger Swarth suggests, as well as supporting the defense claim that Thompson never refused to help the cyclists, as has been reported, but rather, it was the cyclists who refused his aid.

Swarth continued to pressure Peterson, accusing him of anger before the collision, and still being furious and desperate for revenge. Peterson calmly insisted that he was angry at first, “but it’s been awhile.” He continued by saying “I just want justice. That’s why I’m here.”

Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone then called LAPD Traffic Accident Investigator Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez testified that shortly after arriving, he took a statement from the Good Doctor, who said the cyclists were riding “three abreast,” blocking the roadway. VeloNews quotes him as saying “They flipped me off. I stopped in front of them. I wanted to teach them a lesson. I’m tired of them.”

Rodriguez, a veteran officer and former Marine, said that meant this needed to be investigated as an assault with a deadly weapon, rather than a traffic accident. He immediately stopped his investigation and called for backup.

While he waited for help to arrive, Rodriguez took measurements of the crime scene — including one showing the roadway was 20 feet wide at that point.

Again, this could prove important, since standard lane width in California is 12 feet; section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code allows cyclists to take the lane if it’s “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” A substandard lane width would justify taking a position within the lane, rather than hugging the curb to the right.

Stone played a recording of Thompson speaking with the 911 operator. The court could clearly hear him tell the injured cyclists to get their bikes out of the road; he told the operator they weren’t seriously injured, “But they’ll tell you that.”

Swarth suggested that to an ER doctor such as Thompson, “serious” means something different than it does to a layman — setting up an argument to combat the doctor’s lack of remorse. However, considering that he hadn’t examined either victim, it may be hard to support a medical determination.

The next witness was another Mandeville resident, Dr. Bruce Rogen, who was returning home with his family when they came upon the crime scene. He was the first person to offer medical care to the cyclists, saying it was “primitive” due to the lack of medical equipment. Peterson was still bleeding profusely, so he took off his own shirt to use as a bandage to staunch the bleeding.

It was at about that point when the trial paused because one of the jurors felt faint — attributing it to her squeamishness around blood. Somehow, the descriptions of blood got to her, even though the previous day’s bloody photos hadn’t.

When testimony continued, Swarth pressed Rogen on whether Thompson had offered assistance. After repeated questioning, Rogen recalled Thompson saying the cyclists had refused his help; however, he did not remember Thompson attempting to assist him or offer advice.

Geoffrey Keyes, M.D. took the stand next. President of both the L.A. and California Society of Plastic Surgeons, he described the surgery he performed on Peterson, citing significant internal and external injuries to the nose, which required both nasal and septal reconstruction.

The day’s final witness was Patrick Watson of Team Helens, who recalled a similar experience in March, 2008, with a car and license plate number matching that of the Good Doctor’s.

According to Watson, Thompson ran him off the road, forcing him to bunny hop over a curb onto the lawn of a house. His riding partner, Josh Crosby, was forced onto the opposite side of the road; Crosby responded by yelling at Thompson and striking the side of his car.

Meanwhile, Watson hopped back onto the roadway, finding himself one again in front of Thompson’s car; the car charged towards him — forcing him to bunny hop onto the yard once again — before swerving off and driving away.

Watson said Crosby’s punch may have left a dent in Thompson’s Lexus, which they thought could be used as evidence in a hit-and-run charge. Swarth jumped on that, accusing Watson of threatening to file a false police report, since it was Crosby who struck Thompson’s car, rather than the other way around. However, he was forced to back down when Watson said that the police had told him that.

Then again, Swarth was also forced to back down when Judge Scott Millington sternly reprimanded him for repeatedly interrupting witnesses, as well as the judge himself.

According to VeloNews, there was a third, eerily similar incident in Mandeville Canyon that preceded the other two. In the winter of 2008, Patrick Early narrowly escaped injury when a car resembling Thompson’s buzzed his bike and the driver yelled “Get off the road!” Like the riders in this case, he responded by yelling back “Fuck you!,” only to have the driver cut in front of him and slam on the brakes; fortunately, he was riding uphill, so he was able to stop in time to avoid a collision.

Watson’s testimony continues today, followed by Josh Crosby and additional police witnesses; Friday’s witness list includes medical experts, as well as possible testimony from an expert witness about information downloaded from Watson’s Garmin.

“I hope Crosby is composed,” DJwheels said, “because it’s clear that Swarth is going to go after him.”

Defense testimony may begin on Friday or Monday, though Swarth has expressed concern about the availability of witnesses on the first part of the week. Closing arguments are expected on or about October 28.

I’ve done my best to confirm all the names in this story; however, if I have misspelled or gotten anyone’s name or title wrong, let me know and I will be happy to correct it. For more information, see the Times coverage of opening testimony, and the excellent coverage from VeloNews, here and here, as well as today’s story on Streetsblog L.A.

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