Murder Case Against Texas Man Who Killed A Man Outside Denny’s Using A Chokehold Ends In A Mistrial

Melissa PhillipAP Images

On May 28, 2017, Terry Thompson confronted a man who was urinating behind his truck, which was parked outside a Denny’s restaurant in Houston. An altercation ensued between Thompson and John Hernandez. Thompson put Hernandez in a chokehold and pinned him to the ground with the help of his wife, former Harris County Deputy Chauna Thompson. Hernandez lapsed into a coma and died three days later.

The trial started on Wednesday, June 13, and concluded on Saturday in a mistrial. After 29 hours of deliberation, the jury declared that they were unable to render a unanimous decision and Judge Kelli Johnson issued her ruling. According to KHOU-TV, both Thompson and his wife had been charged with murder. But the circumstances surrounding the deadly altercation divided jurors.

Shortly after arriving at the restaurant, Thompson yelled at and approached a very intoxicated Hernandez, who had just finished relieving himself. The toxicology report revealed that the deceased’s blood alcohol level registered at 0.204, which is three times the legal limit. Thompson maintained that Hernandez punched him in the face and that he was only defending himself.

But Thompson has training as a mixed martial artist and wrestled the drunken man to the ground. He continued to choke Hernandez despite pleas from witnesses to stop. They reportedly told Thompson that he was turning purple. Hernandez could not breathe and Thompson refused to let the man go. Chauna Thompson was said to assist her husband by holding Hernandez’s arms.

Judge Kelli Johnson
Judge Kelli Johnson of the 178th District Criminal CourtFeatured image credit: Melissa PhillipAP Images

Assistant District Attorney Jules Johnson argued that Thompson was the aggressor, as Hernandez only wanted to enjoy a meal with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. Johnson asked the jury to consider what the reasonable outcome would be if a man kept another in a chokehold for an indefinite period of time.

“What do you think he intends when you put him in a chokehold?” Johnson asked the jury, according to KHOU. “That he was going to come out okay?”

But defense attorney Scot Courtney stated that Thompson was only defending himself and that the jury must consider both sides of the story.

“My client was not the aggressor,” Courtney said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “My heart goes out to the entire family, but we need to see the entire picture and not just the end result.”

Prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility of a retrial as they believe that the witnesses would be willing to testify again. Patrick Stayton told the Houston Chronicle that Thompson was unjustified in his actions and could have walked away.

“The punishment for urinating in a parking lot or punching someone in the face one time is not public execution,” Stayton said as he addressed the jury.