Jurors deliberated about two hours Thursday before convicting Stephen Thompson of all four counts he was facing, including first-degree murder, in the shotgun slaying six years ago of Carissa Gerard and severe wounding of his estranged wife.
A jury of seven women and five men returned its verdicts at the conclusion of a four-day trial in Jasper County Circuit Court focused on the tumultuous and ultimately tragic relationship of the 60-year-old defendant and his wife, Kristina Thompson, 44.
Judge David Mouton set formal sentencing for Oct. 29. The murder conviction alone carries a mandatory term of life without parole in Missouri.
Assistant Prosecutor Kimberly Fisher was intent during closing arguments Thursday on letting Thompson's own words convict him of the first-degree murder, first-degree domestic assault and two armed criminal action counts.
Fisher told jurors the verdict of second-degree murder that defense attorneys were seeking would fly in the face of statements the defendant made both during and after the shootings six years ago at the residence on the west side of Joplin where the two women were living together.
"He set out to kill them both, and he nearly succeeded," Fisher argued.
She pointed out to the jury that the lone trial issue had been the question of deliberation, a finding of which is required for a first-degree murder conviction and which the law defines as "cool reflection for any length of time no matter how brief."
She said Thompson obviously made the decision to kill the women the night before the shooting because after an aborted attempt at a hospital to get help detoxing from his meth use, he drove all the way to his mother's house in Catoosa, Oklahoma, to get his stepfather's shotgun. He then spent the night there, sleeping on his decision, she said.
"This is cool reflection," Fisher told the jury.
Thompson told police that the next morning he taped the gun in the engine compartment under the hood of his vehicle to avoid being caught with it while returning to Joplin and stopped in Grove, Oklahoma, to go in a Walmart and shop for ammunition.
Both actions show further deliberation, Fisher argued, as did the hours he spent driving around once he got to Joplin and had to wait for Kristina Thompson to return home to her house on West 26th Place.
Fisher then played for jurors a second time a recording of how the defendant had responded to Joplin police Detective Justin Barnett's question if he was feeling any remorse about what he had done during in an interview a few hours after the shootings.
"She got what she needed," Thompson replied to Barnett. And then added: "I can be your best friend or I can be your worst enemy. It is what it is."
Fisher played again another recorded statement in which the defendant told police he hoped he had killed both of the women and a third in which he said: "I'm glad I did it."
Defense attorney Patrick Berrigan told jurors during closing arguments that much of Thompson's rather "matter-of-fact" manner in recounting for police what had happened was little more than "macho stuff" he was spewing out to detectives. You have to consider that the defendant spent time in prison, where you have to talk tough and you can't show emotion, Berrigan said.
But the actual turmoil that was going on inside him the day of the shootings came out when the neighbor spotted him sitting in the driveway of the residence moments after the shootings, he said. She believed he was crying.
Berrigan used John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as an example of a case where there had been evidence of great planning on the part of the defendant.
Hinckley had bought the gun and ammunition weeks earlier on different days in Texas and traveled from Colorado to Washington, D.C., to commit the act. But a jury ultimately found him not guilty because he was mentally ill and acting under a delusion that he could gain the attention of Jodie Foster, he said.
He said that while he was not maintaining that Stephen Thompson was mentally ill when he shot the two women, his point is that it's not planning but deliberation that is at issue in a first-degree murder case.
"And I submit to you that there is absolutely nothing 'cool' going on in the mind of Stephen Thompson on the afternoon of June 10, 2015," Berrigan said.
He termed the photo of Gerard and Kristina Thompson that Kristina Thompson posted on Facebook shortly before the shooting "the match that lights it all." He said that hurt his client more than the injury he had suffered on the job in 2013 that left him in financial straits, more than the pain he was suffering in his efforts to control his meth addiction and even more than the state's removal of his son from his and his wife's custody.
"She poured acid on his heart, and this case was the result," Berrigan said.
Co-defense counsel Devon Passley pushed that line of the defense further, pointing out how the defendant told police that the two women's relationship "ate at him and ate at him," finally prompting his drive to fetch the shotgun in Oklahoma, and how seeing Gerard on the bed that he had shared with his wife enraged him further once he entered the two women's home armed with the gun.
Passley said those "are not thoughts that are cool and reflective" and constitute deliberation and added that "the mere passage of time is not a substitute for cool reflection."
But Fisher countered in rebuttal that the passage of time was important because Thompson spent an entire day planning, preparing and even waiting to do what he did. She said even if he hadn't done all that, there would be sufficient evidence of deliberation just in the acts of raising, cocking, aiming and firing the gun, which he did several times.
She said Kristina Thompson did not post that photo to hurt him. She did not even think he would see it because he had never shown any prior interest in Facebook, she said.
She said you do not get to kill people just because you suffer an injury and lose a job, have your child removed from your home, or have your spouse leave you for someone else.