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PHILIP ARTHUR THOMPSON SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON,
WITH PAROLE POSSIBLE IN SEVEN YEARS
by Kathryn Joanne Dixon

The case of Philip Arthur Thompson came up for a sentencing hearing on Friday, April 25, 2008.  Judge James R. Wagoner heard the attorneys and three individuals speaking on behalf of the victim in Dept. 1 of the El Dorado County Superior Court at the old Courthouse on Main Street in Placerville.

Deputy District Attorney Trish Kelliher opened the proceedings by projecting a 10 foot square photograph of Betty Cloer on a screen in the darkened courtroom.  Ms. Cloer appeared to be about age 21, her face appeared young surrounded by dark hair in a bouffant style set off by a school-girl style white blouse.  Philip Arthur Thompson stood convicted of the first degree murder of Elizabeth (Betty) Marie Cloer.  Her body had been found shot and bludgeoned off Cambridge Road in Cameron Park on June 19. 1971.

Judge Wagoner noted that he would utilize his discretion to implement the current Victims’ Bill of Rights at this hearing, even though the law of 1971 applied to the case.  Therefore, he would allow victims to make impact statements.

DDA Kelliher called Anita McClure to the podium first.  Ms. McClure is a pretty lady in her sixties with bright blue eyes.  She stated she is the sister of Betty Cloer, one of 12 children.  She spoke lovingly of her sister and of the pain of losing her.  She said Betty loved her nieces and nephews and was committed to them.  She was their second mother.  She was a “joy to others”.  It was devastating to Ms. McClure to lose her sister.  She said it was her prayer that Thompson not be allowed out of prison to devastate another person.   Ms. McClure left the podium crying. 

DDA Kelliher then called Donald Cole to the podium.  Mr. Cole was a soldier who had just returned from Vietnam at the time he knew Betty.  He dated her and contemplated a serious relationship with her just weeks before she was killed.  Mr. Cole said Ms. Cloer was a very good person. “My feeling is that I never thought the case would be solved.” He thanked the District Attorney’s office and law enforcement for having solved the case.  He stated “This is resolved now.  Betty’s legacy lives on now in her son Robert.”

Finally, DDA Kelliher called Betty Cloer’s only child, Robert, to the stand.  Robert Cloer, now in his 40s, lost his mother when he was only five years old.  He recalled his own trauma at losing her.  He talked about his mother's black casket on June 25, 1971 at her funeral in Junction City Oregon, and said he did not understand what was going on at the time.  He said he remembered her with tears while family members appeared grief stricken over losing her.  His own personal sorrow about her death surfaced later.  He said he spent most of his life hiding the agony.  “It never left me.”  He described his grandparents who raised him, yet did not forget the loss of Betty, their “baby girl”.

In June 2003, Mr. Cloer was contacted by law enforcement who indicated there was a cold DNA hit linking Philip Arthur Thompson to the death of his mother.  He described how this news appeared on the front page in his home town.  Suddenly his co-workers and neighbors learned about his loss.  At the preliminary hearing, he recalled seeing his mothers’ body laying dead in the tall grass off Cambridge Road and how sorry he felt to lose her.  

Mr. Cloer became close friends with Hal Lamb, the chief investigator on the case and spoke to him weekly.   He met Trish Kelliher.  “The wheels of justice seemed forever frozen for a long time,” he said.   Finally, Rick Fitzgerald and Rich Strasser took over from Hall Lamb who retired.  Detective Fitzgerald told Mr. Cloer, “I will follow this through to the end.  And Rick never let go.”  Mr. Cloer heaped praise on prosecutor Trish Kelliher and law enforcements for their efforts.

Mr. Cloer concluded by asking that Mr. Thompson admit other atrocities that he visited on other people, and requested that God give Thompson a conscience – that he would know the pain of the victims and their loved ones.  However, Mr. Cloer noted, “I believe my plea will fall on deaf ears.”

DDA Kelliher stated that Thompson dedicated himself to a life of crime, and manipulated people for his selfish ends. She described the crime as so calculated, so horrible that it is one of the most heinous crimes.  She said after 37 years the victims will have some peace especially if they know Thompson will never get out of prison.

Thompson chose not to speak.  His attorney Dain Wiener objected for the record to the judge’s decision to not provide Thompson with credit for time served and for running his sentence consecutively to the term he was serving at the time of his arrest.

At 11:20 am, after only 10 minutes of testimony, Judge Wagoner imposed sentence – an indeterminate life sentence.  This was the sentence range in 1971, the Judge pointed out carefully.  Mr. Thompson would be eligible for parole in seven years.  The Judge then said he would not run the indeterminate life sentence concurrent with the life sentence Thompson was already serving for a series of UPS robberies which arose out of San Mateo County.  The Judge refused to give Thompson pre-sentence credits for time served.  Thompson has served almost 4 ½ years in El Dorado County jail since he was arrested for the murder of Betty Cloer when he was still a prisoner at Solano State prison.  The judge imposed two fines of $10,000.00 for victims’ restitution and stayed one of these.  He declared that Thompson should immediately begin paying one fine out of his prison earnings.

Dain Weiner asked that the fine be stayed pending appeal.  The Judge refused to stay it. The judge remanded the defendant to the El Dorado County Sheriff for transport to the California department of Corrections to serve the indeterminate sentence of life with possibility of parole. At 11:35 a.m., the sentencing hearing ended.  A gloom descended over the courtroom as the principals and the observers  left.

After the hearing, Anita McClure stated that she would appear at any future parole hearing regarding Thompson’s release.  She stated that five of Betty Cloer’s siblings are still living. One brother died just two months ago.  Ms. McClure recalled her love of Betty and freely wept.

After the hearing, Philip Arthur Thompson stated that he did not kill Betty Cloer and that he did not receive a fair trial.  Thompson said he is vigorously moving forward with his appeal.

It was an amazing day in El Dorado County Superior Court history.  A murder that occurred almost 37 years ago went before a jury and they reached a guilty verdict.  Modern DNA techniques were applied to a case which occurred at a time when DNA was not even part of crime scene preservation and when the chain of evidence regarding DNA and its preservation were not even considered.  One of the oldest cold cases in California history had resulted in a life sentence with possibility of parole in old Hangtown.

Kathryn Joanne Dixon © 4/27/08

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