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Thompson cold case: Autopsy report made public
By Eric Laughlin | Democrat staff writer | December 06, 2007 15:47
 
The autopsy report of a Sacramento beautician found raped and murdered in 1971 will soon be available to the press and public, following a Monday ruling by a state appeal's court to reverse a gag order issued by El Dorado County Judge James R. Wagoner.

Wagoner issued a gag order in March 2006 to the prosecution and the defense team of defendant Philip Athur Thompson, barring both sides from discussing the 36-year-old Cameron Park homicide of Betty Cloer.

Although Wagoner stated in his ruling that it did not bar members of the press or public from obtaining Cloer's records available under the Public Records Act, a Bay Area journalist was denied her request for copies of such records by the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department and County Counsel, which told her the records were not releaseable since the Sheriff's Department is part of the prosecution team.

When the journalist, Kate Dixon of newsmakingnews.com, responded with a motion to Wagoner requesting a lifting of the order, Wagoner heard argument from both sides on the issue.

El Dorado County prosecutor Trish Kelliher argued to keep the records sealed, stating that their release would jeopardize both sides' right to a fair trial.

Kelliher said that not only does the coroner's report contain information that could trigger bias in Thompson's right to a fair trial, but that its release could also compromise the ongoing investigation by tainting potential witnesses and possibly promoting false confessions.

Thompson's attorney Dain Weiner argued in favor of releasing the reports, asserting that the information within them has already been made public by the prosecution and members of law enforcement who disclosed such information to the Mountain Democrat and other media agencies years ago.

Wagoner ruled to keep the records sealed on the grounds that their release could compromise Thompson's right to a fair trial by potentially tainting the future jury pool.

Dixon took the matter to the appellate court and won.

The court ruled that Wagoner's order must be reversed, since he made the ruling based only on argument and not on actual evidence.

In its Monday ruling, the Third Appellate District Court writes, 'under any standard, a court must have evidence before it to justify required findings of fact.' The court then quoted a prior ruling that reads as follows, 'A finding of fact must be an inference drawn from evidence rather than a mere speculation as to probabilities without evidence.'

The appeal's court continues in its ruling that Wagoner never reviewed the coroner's report, nor did he review evidence offered by Dixon as to the prior media coverage she asserted.

The Mountain Democrat is planning to request copies of the newly obtainable reports.

Thompson, 64, was arrested in 2003 after his DNA was allegedly linked to clothing found in the area where Cloer's body was found. He had been serving time in a state prison when the arrest was made. He is due to stand trial for the murder next month.

Wagoner is currently reviewing a request by Weiner to have the charges dismissed based on prejudice by law enforcement.

Dixon claims there are inconsistancies in the case against Thompson, which she said will come to light with the release of the reports.

'They'll no longer be able to hide the fact that they have a weak case,' she said.


 

The Phillip Arthur Thompson cold hit murder case. 
Woman determined to be independent from defense.
by Eric Laughlin, Mountain Democrat staff writer October 24, 2007

A Bay Area Web journalist is free to print the concealed name of a prosecution witness in an upcoming cold case murder trial, following a judge’s determination that the woman is not working for the defense.

Kate Dixon, editor of newsmakingnews.com, a Website that seeks to expose the alleged mishandling of notable high profile cases (such as that of Richard Hamlin), testified under oath Monday that she was not, or is not, involved in the effort to defend Philip Arthur Thompson.

If she was determined to be working for the defense, she would be subject to previously issued court instructions to both sides not to discuss the case with anyone.

Prosecutor Trish Kelliher had earlier this month fought successfully to seal parts of the Thompson file that include the name of the witness (referred to as John Doe in court records), but Judge James R. Wagoner said that the sealing of the records does not mean that media organizations that  obtained the name prior to the sealing were barred from printing the name. Dixon and the Mountain Democrat both reviewed such files months before the sealing.

It was then that Kelliher made her argument that Dixon’s role should be evaluated to see if she was forbidden from printing the name under the previous instructions applying to attorneys and their representatives.

Kelliher argued that Dixon is more than just a journalist. While Dixon was on the witness stand, Kelliher grilled her as to transcripts of jail visits and a visiting log entry where Dixon writes that she is a “friend” of Thompson.

Dixon, a former attorney, said she only wrote “friend” to get around the jail’s policy regarding journalists visiting inmates. Dixon did acknowledge that she visited Thompson on multiple occasions, but denied ever providing him with legal information.

Kelliher also questioned Dixon as to her and colleague Virginia McCullough’s effort to unseal autopsy records of Betty Cloer, the woman allegedly murdered by Thompson. Dixon acknowledged that she had fought to obtain such records.

Prior to finishing her argument, Kelliher told Judge Wagoner she would turn over the jail transcripts to the judge at his request.

But Wagoner determined that the evidence suggests Dixon was not working for the defense, something Thompson’s attorney Dain Weiner had said repeatedly in open court.

Dixon has had heated encounters with Wagoner in the past few months, most recently and notably Friday, when he nearly held her in contempt of court.

As of press time yesterday, there was no mention of John Doe’s real name on Dixon’s Website. The Mountain Democrat has chosen to hold off on releasing his name until further proceedings.

Kelliher said she is trying to withhold Doe’s name due to safety concerns (he is currently serving time in federal prison). Dixon suspects she has some other motive based upon what she calls an unusually aggressive fight to keep the name out of the press.

Thompson, 64,  is accused of murdering Cloer and dumping her body in a remote area in Cameron Park in 1971. He was arrested by El Dorado County detectives when his DNA was allegedly linked to Cloer while he was serving time in state prison on a burglary conviction. His trial is set for February 2008.
 

Phillip Arthur Thompson on trial for murder of Betty Cloer in 1971. 
Judge bars press, public from courtroom during hearing.

by Eric Laughlin, Mountain Democrat staff writer © October 8, 2007

A closed session court hearing was held Friday for cold case murder defendant Philip Arthur Thompson, whose charges are based largely upon DNA evidence allegedly linking him to the 1971 Cameron Park slaying of a Sacramento beautician.

This was the second time a hearing in the Thompson case was closed to the public at the request of El Dorado County prosecutor Trish Kelliher, deputy district attorney.

The purpose of Friday’s hearing was to address a motion filed by Kelliher’s office to introduce the testimony of a witness in the case who is reportedly incarcerated. The man’s testimony reportedly relates to a prison interview conducted of him by Thompson’s attorney Dain Weiner and his investigator Fran Trunzo.

Judge James R. Wagoner had previously granted Kelliher’s request to seal the motion and information therein; Wagoner said Friday that the information in the motion could have led to Weiner’s dismissal from the case. But as he exited the courtroom following the closed hearing, Weiner said Wagoner had ruled to keep him aboard.

When confronted minutes later, Wagoner provided very little information as to why the hearing was kept secret and as to what was discussed. “All I can tell you is that it was closed to protect the safety of one of the witnesses,” he said. He then confirmed Weiner’s statement that Weiner would be kept on the case.

Prosecutor Kelliher declined comment as to why she requested the hearing be closed. District Attorney Vern Pierson later said only that it was closed for a valid reason. “Barring the public from the courtroom is not something that’s ever taken lightly,” he said.

Bay Area Internet journalist Virginia McCullough expressed outrage over Wagoner’s handling of the case; she has alleged that the judge, a former deputy district attorney, has provided special treatment to Kelliher. “It’s a very small camp and he’s part of it,” she said. “It’s a very difficult case to prove and he’s doing everything he can to sway it her way.”

Thompson, 64, has been housed in the El Dorado County Jail since 2003 when detectives allegedly linked his DNA to samples taken from victim Betty Cloer’s clothing. Cloer’s body was found dumped off a gravel road in a remote area of Cameron Park 36 years ago. Thompson had been serving time in a Vacaville state prison on burglary and robbery convictions when the DNA match was said to have been made. Due to the age of the case, research done by the attorneys has been extensive; some of the witnesses are no longer alive. The trial had been set to go last week, but it now estimated to be delayed until December. Thompson is next due in court Oct. 15.

E-mail Eric Laughlin at or call 344-5064.