WEST JORDAN — A jury determined Friday that a Draper man committed murder when — drunk and enraged after a fight at home — he drove into a busy intersection and killed a mother driving her daughter to cheerleading practice.
After three hours of deliberations, the seven-man, one-woman jury found Bill Robert Thompson, 45, guilty of murder, a first-degree felony, and two counts of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.
Thompson began the trial Tuesday by pleading guilty to several DUI and domestic violence related charges against him, leaving it up to the jury to decide whether the death of 43-year-old Susan Madsen was murder or a lesser charge.
"It won't bring her back, but the choices he made were ridiculous," said Jon R. Madsen, Susan's husband. "It allows us to move forward, but we'll always remember her, we'll always do everything in her name. She's always with us."
In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors told jurors that despite his heavy drinking, Thompson was fully aware of the risk he posed when he hit the accelerator in his large pickup truck, crashing into Madsen's vehicle on May 8, 2014. Madsen was pronounced dead at the scene of the violent crash at Lone Peak Parkway and 12300 South.
"He's aware, he's just angry," prosecutor Sandi Johnson said, describing Thompson's confrontation with paramedics attempting to assist him at the scene. "His intoxication did not prevent him from acting knowingly."
Thompson's attorney, however, argued that while the Draper man admitted his guilt to a number of crimes committed that day, Susan Madsen's death was the result of automobile homicide, not murder.
"He's guilty of crimes, he knows he is, he's here to be held accountable," Thompson's attorney, Rudy Bautista, told the jury. "Automobile homicide, that's what he did."
Thompson was "devastated" by the decision, Bautista said. The Draper man had offered to plead guilty to a lesser charge rather than murder, as well as to the additional charges against him.
"He understands that he's responsible, he's hurt and disappointed in himself that he caused the death of an innocent woman and that he has affected their family," Bautista said. "But he is also angry he was charged with murder. … The state wouldn't allow him to enter a plea bargain, they insisted on proceeding to trial with no plea bargains. We were hoping the jury would see the evidence (that) this is not what he wanted to happen that day."
Jurors did not take the option of convicting Thompson of one of three lesser charges: manslaughter, criminal automobile homicide or negligent automobile homicide.
Thompson's family, who became emotional as the verdict was read, issued a written statement Friday.
"We are saddened by the verdict," the family wrote. "There are no winners today. Bill has three beautiful children who will grow up without their father. The Madsen family no longer have a mother. Bill and his family are mindful of their loss and only hope they can forgive Bill and heal."
Thompson was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.22, well above the legal limit of .08. Before getting into his truck, Thompson had become enraged during a fight in his home where he argued with his wife, then punched a woman who was staying with them and a neighbor who tried to intervene.
Along the way, Thompson came across two teenage girls in a Mini Cooper who were lost on a dead-end frontage road. After turning the truck around, the girls said Thompson squared his truck off with the small car and bumped into it twice, prompting a terrified 911 call.
Though the teens weren't injured, Johnson argued that Thompson "used his truck as a weapon." The girls testified that before he sped off, Thompson looked at them and laughed.
Bautista insisted that Thompson was acting completely out of character and was unaware of the consequences of what he was doing, lost in a haze of alcohol as he battled Xanax withdrawals.
"Everyone involved in the domestic incident said he was acting completely different. … Alcohol unfortunately did that," Bautista told the jury. "He didn't want any of this to happen. He was out of his mind and going through a traumatic event."
Johnson, however, argued that intoxication could not have overcome a lifetime of experienced driving and the knowledge that deliberately running a red light at a busy intersection could have deadly consequences.
"That is utter callousness to every person on the roadway," Johnson said.
Jon Madsen said Friday he hopes his wife's death will send an important message about the dangers of drunk driving.
"I don't have a problem with people drinking … but to drink and get behind the wheel to begin with, and then, number two, to have an indifference to life, I hope people learn from it and learn you just can't do that," he said.
Bautista, however, believes the case sets a troubling legal precedent.
"There should be a distinction," Bautista said. "People who are truly intending to kill someone should be punished differently than someone who has operated poor judgment, who made the choice of drinking. That's a crime and they should be punished, but their mental state is not that they wanted to go out there and take away from families."
Thompson is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 5. He intends to appeal the decision.
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