In May 2014, Seattle police found the body of 49-year-old Daryl Ford wrapped in a blanket inside a shopping cart in South Seattle. An autopsy showed Ford had been stabbed 87 times.
After a mistrial, the man accused of killing Ford was convicted of his murder in 2019. But in November, the state Court of Appeals reversed Michael Thompson’s conviction, and now King County prosecutors intend to try him a third time for second-degree murder.
After serving more than two years of a 31¾-year prison sentence, Thompson was re-charged on Monday and was booked back into the King County Jail on Tuesday, according to jail and court records. He previously spent more than five years in jail, from the time of his May 2014 arrest until he was sentenced to prison in October 2019.
The appellate judges tossed Thompson’s 2019 conviction after back-to-back superior court trial judges did not allow him to assert an insanity defense because Thompson claimed he was intoxicated on alcohol and crack cocaine and blacked out on the night Ford was killed.
“This was a brutal crime and we remain confident in our ability to prove the case at trial,” Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said Thursday. He declined to discuss details of the case because it is ongoing.
Thompson, who according to court records has a developmental disability and a long history of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression with psychotic features, claimed that he acted in self-defense after Ford allegedly tried to sexually assault him.
Two experts, a psychiatrist and a psychologist who testified at Thompson’s previous trials, shared the opinion that Thompson was insane and would have reacted to an attempted sexual assault in the same way even if he hadn’t been intoxicated. But they also opined that his intoxication might have had some role in enhancing his paranoia at the time, court records say.
Insanity is a legal conclusion that a defendant’s mind is so impaired by a mental disease or defect that he or she is unable to perceive the nature or quality of the act he or she is charged with, or is unable to tell right from wrong as it relates to that act. Someone who is insane cannot be held criminally culpable.
Voluntary intoxication, by itself, is not a criminal defense.
For many decades, Washington courts have ruled that a condition that results from voluntary drug or alcohol use is not evidence of insanity, says the Nov. 8 Court of Appeals opinion authored by Judge Stephen Dwyer.
“But no Washington court has held that a defendant may not present evidence of insanity — caused by an involuntary mental illness — simply because there is also evidence that voluntary drug or alcohol use impacted the defendant’s mental state,” the opinion says. “If evidence is adduced that a defendant was impacted by an involuntary mental condition that caused insanity and was also impacted by voluntary drug or alcohol use at the time of the offense, the evidence of insanity should be presented to the jury, and the jury should be instructed to consider whether the impact of the involuntary condition alone would have rendered the defendant insane.”
By excluding Thompson from proffering evidence to support an insanity defense, the trial court erred and based its pretrial ruling on a misunderstanding of state law — which resulted in an abuse of discretion, the opinion says.
The arrest and first 2 trials
Around 10:30 a.m. on May 22, 2014, a woman saw a man with a shopping cart filled with bedding in her front yard on South Austin Street. She asked him what he was doing and he said that he was getting rid of laundry. After she told him he couldn’t use her garbage can, he removed a pair of jeans and some other clothing from the can and returned them to the shopping cart.
As he was pulling the cart out of her yard, the woman noticed what she suspected was a body wrapped in bedding in the cart. She watched as the man pushed the cart across the street and into the stairwell of another residence before he walked away.
Police were called and discovered Ford’s body, wrapped in a blanket and tied with an electrical cord, inside the shopping cart.
Fingerprints found on the shopping cart and other evidence found in a backpack piled on top of Ford’s body quickly led police to identify Thompson as a suspect, charging papers say.
At the time, Thompson was a resident of Seattle Mental Health’s Kenyon House, which provides mental-health and behavioral support to residents, a few blocks from where Ford’s body was found. Police obtained video-surveillance footage from the house that showed Thompson and Ford entering Thompson’s room together on the night of May 21, 2014. Though Thompson was seen in footage from the next morning pushing an empty shopping cart into his room and a full shopping cart out the back door, Ford wasn’t seen on the video again.
The day after Ford’s body was found, police arrested Thompson at his wife’s house.
Thompson was charged with second-degree murder on May 30, 2014.
In January 2016, Thompson was sent to Western State Hospital for a competency evaluation. Doctors determined that he had the ability at that time to understand the charges against him and could consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, court records show.
In the lead-up to his first trial, which began in August 2017, Thompson’s defense attorney indicated that Thompson would pursue insanity and diminished capacity defenses, along with self-defense and voluntary intoxication. (A diminished capacity defense requires expert testimony demonstrating that a mental disorder, not amounting to insanity, impaired a defendant’s ability to form the culpable mental state to commit the crime he or she is charged with. State law does not prohibit a defendant from pursuing both insanity and diminished capacity defenses.)
All four are affirmative defenses, which means the burden is on the defendant to prove such a defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
But during pretrial motions, Judge Mary Roberts ruled that the defense was excluded from pursuing an insanity defense, but granted affirmative defenses for diminished capacity, self-defense and voluntary intoxication, court records show.
After 14 days of trial, Roberts declared a mistrial after determining that Thompson was asked inappropriate questions during cross-examination by former Senior Deputy Prosecutor Julie Kline about his decision to invoke his right to counsel and remain silent. Specifically, she asked him why he didn’t tell police that Ford had tried to sexually assault him, or that Ford had been armed with a knife, court records show.
Before the start of Thompson’s second trial in late January 2019, Judge Patrick Oishi adopted Roberts’ earlier pretrial rulings, including the ruling that excluded Thompson from pursuing an insanity defense.
The jury found Thompson guilty on Feb. 25, 2019.
After the state Court of Appeals overturned Thompson’s conviction in November, the three-judge panel remanded the case back to King County last month for further proceedings.
Thompson, who remains in custody in lieu of $2 million bail, is to be arraigned on Jan. 24. Court records do not yet indicate which defense attorney is representing him.