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Court Will Hear New Evidence in Thompson Death Row Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Weeks before Thomas Thompson’s scheduled execution for the 1981 rape and stabbing death of a Laguna Beach woman, a federal appeals court said Friday it will consider new evidence that he claims proves his innocence.

The state claims the evidence proves nothing and should be ignored under a federal law limiting prisoner appeals.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would hold the hearing before an 11-judge panel in Pasadena on July 9. The state has scheduled Thompson to die by lethal injection on July 14.

“It’s unfortunate the state [officials] set an execution date at the earliest possible time when they were aware that the 9th Circuit was going to hear these complex issues,” said Thompson attorney Andrew S. Love of San Francisco.

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“It just created extra chaos and pressures when there are these important issues with regard to Mr. Thompson’s innocence.”

The evidence, Love said, proves that Thompson did not rape Ginger Fleischli, then 20, in the Laguna Beach apartment she shared with her ex-boyfriend, David Leitch. The rape is significant because it created the special circumstance that made Thompson eligible for death.

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There was testimony at the trial that the victim had been “handcuffed, bound and gagged,” Love said, but the new evidence shows that Leitch apparently told a police officer and stated later at a parole hearing “that Mr. Thompson and the victim were engaged in consensual sex when he came home that night.”

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The story told at the time, Love said, was that Leitch came home after the victim had been killed.

“This is pretty critical evidence, and none of it was disclosed to Mr. Thompson or to us,” Love said. “We fortuitously came across it.”

Moreover, Love said, neither the appellate court nor the U.S. Supreme Court has heard the evidence. Had the 9th Circuit not adjusted its schedule, Thompson would have been executed before this appeal had been considered, he added.

State prosecutors have questioned the validity of the new information and said it should not influence whether Thompson is put to death.

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Thompson has made previous appeals. On his first, he claimed his trial lawyer had been incompetent. A U.S. District Court judge reversed the verdict, but a three-judge appellate panel reinstated his death sentence.

Next, the full 9th Circuit intervened and blamed a clerical error for its failure to reconsider the case, and voted to refer the appeal to an 11-judge panel, which found there had been trial lawyer incompetence and overturned the death sentence.

That ruling was reversed in April by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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