Special to the Vanguard
The jury in the case of accused political pie-thrower Sean Thompson here surprisingly moved into its second day of full deliberations Thursday, despite the court gutting a defense plan to call dozens of witnesses, including police, eyewitnesses and former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, his wife and family.
The nine-woman, three-man jury in Sacramento Superior Court could not reach a decision Wednesday after an impassioned, nearly 90 minute closing argument late Tuesday by Claire White of the Vallejo law firm of Morton & Russo. The firm – through White and Jeff Mendelman – is representing activist and military veteran Thompson pro bono.
But the case hasn’t been as “simple” as Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz promised. He repeated that theme throughout the trial and, in his closing argument, suggesting the jury ignore the fact that Thompson was not “dangerous (or) a bad person” but yet convict him of felony assault on a public official that could land him in jail for years even though it is a traditional political prank.
“Mr. Thompson’s heart is in the right place…he just crossed the line,” said Ortiz in closing. He repeatedly criticized White for “misleading” the jury about the pieing at Johnson’s St. Hope Academy (formerly Sacramento High School) late last year.
Ortiz also insisted the judge order White, an Air Force veteran like Thompson, remove a small pin on her clothing that said “Leave No Veteran Behind.” After she removed it, White chastised “the government” and Judge Robert Twiss for believing that veterans were “not relevant” and that wearing a pro-veterans pin was political.
While Ortiz made a short closing statement, calling the case “not the crime of the century” and telling jurors to ignore the bloody attack on Thompson after the pie toss as “not relevant,” White stressed that the prosecution did not prove its case.
She noted that to be proven guilty of assault on a public official, the DA had to prove the mayor was involved in “official duties,” which it did not because being at a private school for his own nonprofit wasn’t an official duty.
White also said it wasn’t proven that a coconut cream pie led to the “brutal beating” of Thompson by the former mayor – but maybe something that was said after the pieing. She noted that to be found guilty Thompson’s cream pie had to be offensive…and no evidence showed that. Johnson could have said that, but the DA refused to call him, thus not allowing Thompson to confront his accuser.
She focused on testimony of all the witnesses, including those of the prosecution, that depicted Johnson punching Thompson “at least seven times” including when Thompson, who did not fight back, was “straddled” by the former NBA all-star on the ground, who used “both fists” to pummel Thompson so badly Johnson “had blood on his sleeves.”
“The wrong man is on trial for the wrong crime…we heard evidence of assault that day, but it wasn’t Thompson that did the assaulting,” White said, adding that some witnesses testified they thought the pieing was part of the fundraiser at St. Hope Academy that day.
White also countered Ortiz’s point that it was assault no matter the weapon, noting that jurors should use “common sense” to determine if a cream pie was the same as a real weapon. She said that “it was political theatre…this was a performance… and the pie was a prop for Mr. Thompson.”
White attacked the mayor and, indirectly, DA Ortiz, describing a scene where the “mayor was pulled off” Thompson after “mounting him and beating him to a pulp with both fists….in front of children. The DA thinks that is a reasonable response to a cream pie,” as she pointed at the DA.
White and Mendelman attempted to shows dozens of pieing, from political acts to comedy acts, but the judge only allowed one photo. They were attempting to show that pieing is traditional political theater in the U.S., and that perpetrators rarely if ever are charged with a crime.
The judge also disallowed the calling of multiple police and other key witnesses for the defense, calling their testimony “not relevant.” He rejected the necessity defense, which argues that a small crime is committed to prevent a greater harm – such as speeding to get a person to the hospital. Thompson argued his act was political theater designed to bring light to the homeless and other social ills.
But the first two witnesses of the week almost appeared to be testifying for the defense.
Bobbin Mulvaney, whose firm catered the affair, said she was attended by more than 100 “community leaders and corporates” who paid $125 a head, and admitted on the stand she was not, in fact, a witness to Thompson or anyone else throwing a pie. She said she watched what happened afterward, though, and described in detail Johnson throwing repeated punches that landed on Thompson, who didn’t fight back.
Paul Rind, a waiter at the affair, said he did see Thompson “put a pie in the mayor’s face in a forceful” manner. But he then described in detail the beating, which sounded much more violent.
“I saw the mayor hit him (Thompson) seven times. I didn’t see (the defendant) swing back and he curled up in a defensive position, like a fetal position,” said Rind. He then testified the mayor continued to “punch” Thompson three to four times even though the alleged pie-thrower was on the ground. Rind said “I don’t recall any injuries to the mayor,” despite obvious injuries to Thompson, who was hospitalized. Rind also said the mayor tried to “play it off” and make light of the event afterward, as if it wasn’t that serious.
Before witnesses were called by the prosecution, Ortiz, in brief opening arguments, displayed a transcript from part of a Thompson jailhouse interview where Thompson reportedly admitted he hit the mayor with a pie as a political statement because the mayor failed to help the homeless and the “have nots” in Sacramento, and that the children of citizens in Sacramento today would “pay” for the arena and other failures of Johnson in his eight years as mayor.
White called Thompson’s pie attack “not an assault” but an “act of political theatre, a stunt” and an “act of theatre with risk.” She emphasized that her client had “no intention of hurting anyone” with a coconut cream pie. “This is a case of the wrong man (on trial) for the wrong crime,” she said.