HOUSTON – Prosecutors said Wednesday they are dropping a murder charge against a former deputy who had been accused, along with her husband, in the strangulation death of a man they confronted outside a Houston-area restaurant.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office said that after reviewing all the evidence in the case, prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauna Thompson had committed a crime.
Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry, were both indicted for murder in the May 2017 death of John Hernandez. Her trial was set to begin April 26.
The incident began after Terry Thompson confronted Hernandez, 24, about urinating in the parking lot of a Denny's in Sheldon, about 25 miles northeast of Houston.
Chauna Thompson, who was off-duty, then arrived and helped subdue Hernandez before later performing CPR on him. She was later fired by the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
First Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said Thompson failed both morally and as a sheriff's deputy.
"She should have done more as a peace officer to intervene but that is not a crime," Berg said. "Our job is to do justice, not just seek conviction."
Prosecutors filed a motion Wednesday to drop the murder charge and a judge was expected to accept the request, Berg said.
A jury in November sentenced Terry Thompson to 25 years in prison. Prosecutors said at trial that Thompson kept Hernandez in a chokehold even after he stopped resisting.
Hernandez died in a hospital three days after the confrontation. A medical examiner ruled he died of lack of oxygen to the brain caused by strangulation and chest compression.
Prosecutors took into consideration that Chauna Thompson performed CPR on Hernandez as one of the factors when making their decision to drop the charge, Berg said.
The Hernandez family will never truly have justice because this should not have happened to him, said Cesar Espinosa, the executive director of FIEL Houston, a community group that has worked with the family since his death.
"It's a hard pill to swallow but I ask that we center on what the family wants which is to close this dark chapter in their lives," Espinosa said.
Greg Cagle, Chauna Thompson's attorney, said his client should not have been charged because she was the only person who did anything to help Hernandez. When she realized Hernandez was in trouble, Cagle said she told her husband to get off him, called the sheriff's office and performed CPR for 12 to 14 minutes until an ambulance arrived.
"She's very happy to not have to go to court and potentially spend the rest of her life in prison for something that we now agree she's not guilty of," Cagle said.
Thompson's appeal of her firing was put on hold pending the outcome of her case. Cagle said that appeal can now proceed but he has not discussed the issue with Thompson.
In a statement, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said it "continues to offer its condolences to the Hernandez family," and that Thompson's appeal of her firing is pending before the Civil Service Commission.
Hernandez's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in June 2017 against the Thompsons and Denny's, asking for at least $1 million in damages.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70