Prosecutors rested their case against Terry Thompson on Wednesday, the man accused of murdering 24-year-old John Hernandez outside a Crosby-area Denny’s restaurant last year.
Thompson’s defense team will now decide whether to present a case of their own or proceed to closing arguments. Judge Kelli Johnson told the jury they may be formally sequestered—meaning they’ll be housed in a hotel for the remainder of the trial with no TVs and no access to outside news sources.
During Wednesday’s testimony, jurors heard from the Denny’s manager, Mercedes Romero, who was working the night of the fight and more testimony from an expert in strangulation.
Romero told jurors that she noticed Hernandez was intoxicated when he walked inside the restaurant with his family, but he wasn’t disruptive. She said Hernandez was sweating and swaying. Minutes later, Romero said, she saw Hernandez walk outside and that she followed his wife out the front doors.
That’s when, she told the jury, she saw Thompson sitting on top of Hernandez’s stomach and hitting Hernandez repeatedly in the face. She told jurors that’s when she got scared.
“It got very ugly and I’ve never seen something like that,” she testified. “I had a feeling one was going to get killed.”
Romero said she told Thompson to let Hernandez go, but he said, “No, (Hernandez) punched me first.” She said Thompson was red with “anger in his eyes.”
Romero told the jury she asked two employees who were sitting inside to try and pull Thompson off, though they were unable.
She called 911.
When she went back outside, Romero told jurors that she saw Hernandez on his stomach with Thompson on his back and that Thompson had him in a chokehold. She testified that Hernandez was making choking noises and he was kicking his feet and attempting to pull Thompson’s arm away from his throat.
As he’s done with all the prosecution’s witnesses, defense attorney Scot Courtney worked to poke holes in Romero’s testimony. He cited statements she gave police that night that she only saw Hernandez on his belly and that Thompson kept “hitting, hitting, hitting and never stopped.”
Courtney read Romero’s statement back to her in which she told police, “I remember him hitting him until he turned purple.”
Romero later testified, “That is not correct.”
Photos: Terry, Chauna Thompson indicted for murder
Courtney took Romero through surveillance video from Denny’s that showed her initially walking outside and her subsequent visits outside. Courtney wanted to know when Hernandez ended up on his stomach, when did Thompson stop hitting him, when did she know that Hernandez was no longer breathing?
Romero said she didn’t know because she was in and out of the restaurant because it was too noisy outside and she couldn’t hear the 911 operator. She testified that others were yelling for Thompson to stop.
Did the event seem like it lasted a long time when it happened? Courtney asked.
Yes, it felt like it was a long time, Romero said.
And now? Courtney said.
Right now it doesn’t look like it took that long. But at the moment it felt like the cops took forever to get there, Romero said.
And it makes it difficult to remember what’s going on? Courtney asked.
Yes, Romero said.
Prosecutors also played the 911 tape from Chauna Thompson, Terry’s wife and former Harris County Sheriff’s deputy.
In the call, Chauna Thompson told dispatch that two men were injured and fighting.
“Can you tell them to step it up,” she told dispatch referring to law enforcement.
She later told dispatch, “Now one of them is unresponsive.”
The jury heard more testimony from Dr. William Smock, who testified for hours Tuesday and, at one point, demonstrated martial arts moves on a life-size dummy.
The forensic medical expert identified the physical hold Terry Thompson had on John Hernandez on May 28, 2017 as a “lateral vascular neck restriction” (LVNR). Smock also said the restriction is known as the “sleeper hold” or “chokehold.”
The medical expert testified serious bodily injury could result in “as little as six seconds” from this action.
Courtney, Thompson’s attorney, questioned Smock on his knowledge of Texas strangulation laws.
Courtney asked Smock if he was aware restricting the normal flow of air to an individual (other than a family member) is only considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas.
The witness was shown out-of-state video clips that showed LVNR training for law enforcement officers.
Smock maintained the technique causes serious bodily injury and carries with it a “substantial risk of death.”
Smock testified he lives Louisville, Kentucky, and is the police surgeon for the Louisville Police Department. He said he is a strangulation expert and teaches courses throughout the country for the Strangulation Institute, which he says teaches law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys about strangulation.
The medical expert said he was first contacted by Harris County prosecutors to consult on the case last month.
Smock said he is paid $300 per hour ($2,400 per day) by Harris County plus travel expenses for his expert consultation and testimony on the case.