Witnesses tell of turmoil in murder case defendant's life

·7 min read

Sep. 23—Leisha Beard saw Stephen Thompson sitting in a driveway on West 26th Place with his hands covering his face as she drove past the day six years ago when he shot and killed Carissa Gerard and severely wounded his estranged wife.

Beard testified Wednesday at the 60-year-old defendant's trial on first-degree murder charges that Thompson appeared to her to be crying.

As Beard reached the end of the block, she spotted Joplin police vehicles arriving and mustering in the neighborhood in force and officers moving on foot in the direction of that address.

She was one of a series of witnesses called to testify on the third day of the trial in Jasper County Circuit Court whose testimony defense attorneys hope will convince jurors that what their client did on June 10, 2015, falls short of a first-degree murder conviction and its mandatory prison term of life without parole.

Beard acknowledged under cross-examination by Prosecutor Theresa Kenney that she could not be certain that Thompson was in tears. That was simply the impression she had that day of the neighbor she did not know but had seen arguing with his wife in front of their home on prior occasions.

Her testimony jibed with what Thompson told detectives that he had done in the immediate aftermath of the shootings that claimed the life of the 38-year-old Gerard and left Kristina Thompson hospitalized for two and half months.

In a late night walk-through of the crime scene that same day, Stephen Thompson told investigators how he passed back through the house to the front yard after shooting the two women, sat down near his vehicle and made cellphone calls to his lawyer, a social worker and his parole officer.

He disclosed to the parole officer what he had done and was advised to put the weapon down and get down on his knees with his hands in plain sight to await the arrival of police, or he would be shot and killed. The officers who soon arrived on the scene found the 12-gauge shotgun on the sidewalk leading to the front door of the home and three unspent shells on the front lawn.

The defense called Beard as a witness in an effort to counter the evidence the state has presented of the element of deliberation required for a first-degree murder conviction and a perceived lack of remorse on the part of Thompson in statements he made to police at the time and several years later in court.

Prosecutors in murder cases often view a lack of remorse as a strong indicator of the intent of a perpetrator and a good gauge of the relative heinousness of a crime.

Kenney said during opening statements on Monday that Thompson's failure to dial 911 during the series of calls he made after the shooting showed not only that he intended to kill both women but also that he clearly felt no remorse about it in the immediate aftermath.

His parole officer at the time, Huston Brady, was another of the witnesses called by the defense Wednesday. Thompson, who served time in Oklahoma for a forgery conviction, was being supervised by Brady under an interstate parole compact when the shootings took place.

Brady described Thompson as a cooperative parolee, always quick to inform him of any relapses he had in terms of substance abuse. He was being seen by a drug counselor at the New Directions program of Ozark Center as a condition of his parole and was regular in keeping appointments there, Brady said.

It was Brady's opinion, however, that Thompson's relationship with his wife was "toxic," and he had advised him to move out before he was forced to do so by his wife.

Joshua Allison, the defendant's counselor in the Ozark Center program, said Thompson underwent treatment courses twice with him. He described him as "very engaged" the first time through and ultimately successful in completing the program within about six months.

He was referred back to the program by the local probation and parole office in December 2014, and assessed with a severe methamphetamine dependence and mild alcohol abuse problem. The second time did not go as well due to the number of issues that had cropped up in his life and were contributing to a falloff in his participation in the program, Allison told the court.

The last time Allison saw Thompson was May 22, about three weeks before the shootings.

The triage nurse in the emergency room of Freeman Hospital West who saw Thompson when he sought help there the night before the shootings told jurors he came in wanting "to detox from meth." She said he told her he was separated from his wife and wanted to detox to get back together with her.

He was not showing any of the usual signs of meth intoxication — irrationality, twitching, sores or track marks, she said. She checked his vitals and asked him if he was wanting to hurt himself or others, and he told her he was not.

So she sent him out to a waiting room pending lab draws and getting an EKG done on him, the steps for medically clearing a detox complaint, she said. But when time for a second vitals check rolled around a little less than an hour later, he had left the hospital, she said.

The defense also has been calling jurors' attention to the period of disability and joblessness the defendant was undergoing at the time, having suffered injuries to his shoulder and elbow in an accident on the job on Oct. 31, 2013.

Dr. Dennis Estep, chief medical officer for Freeman Health System, who saw Thompson as a patient 11 days after the accident, testified that he got hurt unloading a scissors jack off a trailer when the trailer shifted, throwing him from the machine.

After X-raying and conducting a physical exam, the doctor suspected he might have a rotator cuff tear and ordered a magnetic resonance imaging test. But an issue developed between the insurance company involved and an attorney for his employer, and the MRI did not get done until a couple of months later when the insurance company changed its position.

It turned out he had a massive rotator cuff tear for which Estep referred him to orthopedic surgeons in Joplin, but the insurance company sent him to a Springfield doctor instead. What followed was surgery and a lengthy period of physical therapy to address an extremely limited range of motion and atrophy of his shoulder joint.

Neosho attorney Andy Wood was called to testify as to his handling of the defendant's workers' compensation claim.

Wood said Thompson had been fired shortly after getting injured. The severity of that injury, the resulting joblessness and financial strain it brought about simultaneous with the birth of his and Kristina's son, and various setbacks he experienced getting his claim processed led to a buildup of frustration in his client, Wood said.

Ultimately, more than half of the $40,000 settlement he was awarded went to pay others and did not end up in Thompson's pocket, Wood testified.

Marlie Hilton, the social worker who was working Thompson's and his wife's case with respect to their son after he was removed from their home due to their drug use issues in March 2015, testified that the couple had separated, gotten back together and then separated again in the months preceding the shooting. She attributed their difficulties to "a lot of different things happening at the same time."

Their son's foster father, who has since become the boy's adoptive father, told the court that he, his wife and the boy visited with Stephen Thompson two days before the shooting and found him to be "pretty emotional" and "teary-eyed." He said the defendant told them he was having some "bad thoughts," a comment he was uncertain how to interpret.

"We could tell he wasn't his normal self for sure," he said.

Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher asked on cross-examination if that concern was about him possibly being suicidal, and he acknowledged it was.

"You had no idea he was planning to kill somebody, did you?" she asked.

"No," he said.

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