VeloNews: LA road-rage trial closing arguments wrap up
By Patrick Brady
Published: Oct. 30, 2009
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made closing arguments Thursday in Los Angeles, in the trial of a former emergency room doctor accused of injuring two cyclists when he stopped his car suddenly in front of them.
Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson’s attorney said it was all an accident. “This was not an attempt to hurt anyone.”
Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone said Thompson’s actions “crossed a line you cannot cross.”
Thompson is accused of assault with a deadly weapon, reckless driving causing specified bodily injury, battery with serious bodily injury and mayhem. The most serious charges stem from a July 4, 2008, incident on the road where Thompson lives. Other charges relate to a similar incident on the same road that did not result in injuries.
Stone said that, in the earlier incident, Thompson had three options when he caught up to cyclists Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby as they descended Mandeville Canyon Road. He could have driven behind the two cyclists at 30 mph (the speed limit and the cyclists’ speed according to GPS data) or he could have passed them and kept driving. Instead, he passed them and then stopped, later saying that he wanted to take a picture, a claim Stone called “patently ridiculous.”
In that incident, Watson and Crosby said they narrowly avoiding hitting the rear of Thompson’s Infiniti sedan when he stopped.
Stone played Thompson’s 911 call, from after the July 4 incident, once again for the jurors. Jurors heard Thompson tell the operator, “They said fuck you; I slammed on my brakes.”
On the tape the operator asked Thompson if the injuries were serious, and he said, “They’ll tell you they are, but they’re not.”
“What a callous statement is that?” Stone asked. “He had no right to make that statement.”
Stone reminded the jury how the first police officer to arrive testified that Thompson told him: “I wanted to teach (the cyclists) a lesson,” and “I’m tired of them.”
Those words did not fit with the profile of a man who, as an MD, “knows the fragility of the human body,” Stone told the jury.
Defense attorney Peter Swarth began by putting a sheet of paper on an overhead projector. It had a single word, “accident.”
“This was an accident that could happen to anyone,” he said.
Swarth portrayed the cyclists as at fault; they “endangered (Thompson) by not allowing him to pass,” he said.
“If you have even a feather of doubt, then you have reasonable doubt and you must acquit,” Thompson said.
In regard to the Fourth of July incident, Swarth asked the jury, “Where is the evidence of anger? The injury doesn’t make this criminal.”
He accused Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr, the riders in the July 4 incident, of being dishonest and said of Stoehr, “He looked back at his friend Ron Peterson; he lost his balance and fell.”
Of Peterson (a cycling coach) he said, “This teacher, teaching his student about the dangers of the road, teaches him about anger.”
He referenced Stone’s statements about the permanence of Peterson and Stoehr’s injuries and then asked the jury, “Where does Dr. Thompson go to get his reputation back?
Next, he asked, “If you’re in a rage why are you going to get out of your car and call 911?”
Speaking of the 911 recording, Swarth said, “Did he choose the best words? No. This was not an attempt to hurt anyone. He wanted to get a photo.”
Swarth sought to convince the jury that Thompson was actively seeking to create a safer situation. “The universe is like that … the thing you seek to avoid becomes the thing you can’t avoid.”
“The facts in this case don’t add up to a criminal act.”
The final word
In Stone’s rebuttal, she laid out an allegory of sorts, re-telling the three Mandeville Canyon incidents the prosecution presented during the trial.
First, she goes to a Trader Joe’s. Goes to the aisle where they have granola she wants. Someone is in the way, preventing her from getting her granola, so she swings a bat at the person, but doesn’t hit him. With that, Stone held up a baseball bat, swinging in an abrupt arc.
Weeks go by. She returns to the Trader Joe’s and again there’s someone in the way, someone preventing her from getting her granola. This time she swings the bat at them and they duck just out of the way.
A few more weeks go by and she’s back at Trader Joe’s. Someone, she said, “is in my aisle, blocking me from my granola. So I blast his nose with my bat.”
“But of course, I get arrested.”
Then, donning a white doctor’s coat, she said, “But I shroud myself in this because I want to deflect what I did.”
The court is closed Friday. A jury verdict is expected early next week. If convicted of all charges, Thompson could spend up to five years in prison.