Prosecutors played for jurors Monday a police video of an unsolicited remark Stephen Thompson made from the back seat of the patrol car that was taking him to jail six years ago after the shooting of his estranged wife and her girlfriend.
“I hope I killed both of those b------, man,” Thompson told his transporting officer. “One’s my wife. I know I heard them say one of them is dead in the backyard. That’s good. I tried to kill both of them.”
The video was played for the jury during the presentation of the state’s case against Thompson, 60, on the first day of his trial in Jasper County Circuit Court. The defendant is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action in the shotgun slaying of 38-year-old Carissa Gerard and severe wounding of Kristina Thompson, now 44.
The nine female and five male jurors seated Monday to hear the case were selected through pretrial questionnaires and two days of small-group vetting by attorneys last week.
Prosecutor Theresa Kenney and defense attorney Thomas Jacquinot indicated during opening statements that the issue at trial will not be whether the defendant shot the two victims but rather if he did so deliberately or in the heat of passion.
Kenney told jurors the Thompsons’ marriage had been short and tumultuous and was coming to an end by June 2015. Kristina Thompson had asked her husband to move out of their house. While still living with her, Stephen Thompson had begun to suspect she might be having an affair with Gerard. But he did not know for certain until Gerard moved in with her after he moved out, Kenney said.
That’s when he decided to kill them both, and his actions from that point on show planning and deliberation, Kenney told jurors.
She said the evidence will show he drove 98 miles to his mother’s home in Catoosa, Oklahoma, to arm himself with his stepfather’s shotgun and took precautions to duct-tape it under the hood of his SUV before driving to a Walmart store in Grove, Oklahoma, the following morning and buying shells of birdshot.
Kenney said he later told police that he would have preferred buckshot because he knew the comparative damage that could cause but had to settle for birdshot instead.
When he got back to Joplin, he headed to his former address where the two women were then living and drove on past when he saw Gerard’s vehicle there but not his wife’s. He then waited for his wife to return while loading both the gun and his pockets with shells, two additional acts of deliberation, Kenney told jurors.
He returned to find both women’s vehicles there, parked in front of their driveway and walked through the open garage into the house, where he encountered Kristina Thompson’s 17-year-old son from a prior relationship.
The son, Tyler Bowers, now 24 years old and the first witness called by the prosecution, described the relationship of his mother and stepfather as “toxic.”
He recalled seeing the gun as his stepfather asked him: “Where’s your mother?” He said his mother and Gerard could be heard at that moment in a nearby bedroom, and Stephen Thompson stepped to the doorway of the room and started shooting as Bowers fled to a neighbor’s house for help and called 911.
“There’s a man with a shotgun in my house; he’s shooting at my mother,” Bowers told the 911 operator in an audio clip of the call played for jurors.
He told the operator he could hear five or six shots fired.
Kenney told jurors the evidence will show that the shot into the bedroom struck Gerard in her side. The two women broke the glass out of a bedroom window in a desperate effort to get away as the defendant removed the spent shell and reloaded the gun, she said.
They fled across the backyard and were attempting to scramble over a fence on the east side of the property when Thompson caught up to them and fired a second shot, striking Gerard in her arm, Kenney said. She ran across the yard to the fence on the west side and was shot again, with the force of the shot blowing her over the fence onto her back.
Kristina Thompson, who was attempting to hide behind a tree as her husband was shooting Gerard, then tried to get over the fence to the west but was hit by the fourth shot fired, Kenney said.
The prosecutor said Kristina Thompson exclaimed: “You’ve killed me!” and her husband responded: “You’re not dead yet, b----!”
Kristina Thompson survived the shooting by dragging herself to the back door of her neighbor’s house, who let her in and began administering first aid.
Kenney said Stephen Thompson would later tell police that he watched Gerard draw her last breath before going out to the front yard of the residence and sitting down and making a series of phones calls while he waited for police to show up.
“But he doesn’t call 911,” Kenney said. “His purpose is that both of these women die.”
Missouri law requires some proof of a period of “cool reflection, however brief” preceding a slaying to constitute deliberation and first-degree murder.
Jacquinot acknowledged that to the jury that cool reflection “can happen very fast.” But the law also recognizes that the act can happen in the heat of a moment, he said, and he argued that in Stephen Thompson’s case, it is necessary to consider the various pressures he was under and the mental state they put him in.
He said the young son he had in common with Kristina Thompson represented a second chance for Thompson as a parent and both he and his wife had been trying to reestablish themselves as fit parents after having had the child placed in foster care.
“Stephen probably more than anything in the world wanted to be a parent,” Jacquinot said.
But he had recently become disabled and unable to work and then his wife asked him to move out of the house they shared. He just came home one day and found she’d packed his belongings for him, and he wound up living out of his car, Jacquinot said.
On top of those family and employment issues, he was undergoing drug counseling and having to report to a parole officer. Then just before the shootings, his wife and Gerard came out on Facebook with an announcement of their relationship, and it “began to eat at him,” Jacquinot said.
He sought help with his mental state at a Joplin hospital, but he ended up leaving and going to his mother’s home in Oklahoma when it seemed he had got “lost in the shuffle” of a shift change at the emergency room.
The doctor who treated Kristina Thompson at Freeman Hospital West said she arrived there in “profound hemorrhagic shock” and had to be intubated before surgery.
She had a severe gunshot wound to her upper abdomen about 2.4 inches long surrounded by deep pellet wounds, the bulk of which penetrated her liver, with a couple even above her diaphragm and near her heart.
“I thought there was very good chance she might not survive those injuries,” Dr. Brock Carney said.
She required multiple surgeries and procedures and had to be treated for renal failure, duodenal leaks, a hernia and respiratory dependence over the course of a 2 1/2-month hospital stay.
Kristina Thompson has yet to testify at the trial, which resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Judge David Mouton’s courtroom in Joplin.