Feds should investigate former Winchester prosecutor 

When former Virginia commonwealth's attorney Paul H. Thomson was arrested January 11 by federal agents in Winchester on drug, witness and evidence tampering charges, the lid flew off of the tightly sealed Pandora's box containing cases he had won. The U.S. attorney said Thomson tested positive for cocaine use, which was more forensic evidence than he had to send Jeff Washington to prison for 70 years for the 1994 murder of local drug dealer Carlos Marshall.

Thomson is reportedly a nephew of legendary state senator Harry Flood Byrd, whose Democratic "Organization" consisted of a statewide courthouse clique that controlled Virginia politics for 50 years. Remnants of the crony-run Byrd Machine can still be found in courthouses throughout the state.

Franklin Washington spent the last 16 years trying to free his adopted son, whom he insists is innocent. The retired factory worker refused to give up after several strokes forced him to stop picketing the Winchester courthouse. Despite a grade-school education, he eventually uncovered a trove of new evidence in what a court observer called the "most fouled up case I've ever seen."

It's so fouled up that last year, current Commonwealth's Attorney Alex Iden asked for a special prosecutor to look into allegations that the name of a potential witness was erased from the transcripts by a court reporter who was allegedly having an affair with Thomson.

Washington's father also maintains that the prosecutor deliberately tried to prejudice potential jurors by telling the press a month before trial that a violent video depicting black gang members that belonged to the victim had been found in his son's home. A search warrant inventory sheet proved otherwise.

The prosecution also failed to list $152 found in the victim's pocket as evidence that the elder Washington found on an autopsy sheet, even though robbery was one of two aggravating conditions Thomson used to threaten Washington with the electric chair. Thomson also backdated his request for the death penalty after kidnapping charges against Washington had been dropped, making him ineligible for the chair.

It took Franklin Washington ten years just to get a copy of Thomson's witness list under a Freedom of Information Act request. None of his son's four co-defendants are on it, including key witness Rudy Powell - a former client of defense attorney John Prosser. Prosser pocketed $33,500 in legal fees from Washington's parents without revealing the conflict.

"Prosser told Jeff that if he didn't plead guilty, they would kill him," Franklin Washington told The Examiner. "If I had the information I have today, I wouldn't have given him a nickel."

In a March 1, 1995 story in the Northern Virginia Daily, Thomson admitted that he had no forensic evidence linking Washington to the murder. What he didn't say was that after gunshot residue tests exonerated Washington, tests on his co-defendants were mysteriously cancelled. But Thomson withheld this exculpatory evidence for months while making plea bargains with the same co-defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges in return for fingering Washington.

Yet nobody at the crime scene was interviewed - or put on the witness stand. "For 16 years, my son has never pointed the finger at anybody," Franklin Washington told me. "He just says he wasn't there."

The same 1995 newspaper article quotes Thomson as saying, "When you get involved in drugs, it provides an opportunity for evil to creep into your life." He should know.

One of the most damaging pieces of evidence to surface is a Feb. 17, 1999 report filed by Winchester Sgt. David Sobonya, who said he "received information that (redacted) wants to provide information that Paul Thomson is skimming money from drug dealers." If there was an investigation into these explosive accusations, nobody's heard about it.

Exactly two weeks after Thomson was arrested, Prosser suddenly announced he was resigning as a Frederick County Circuit Court judge. Maybe that's just a coincidence, but don't bet on it.

The volume of evidence by his indicating that Thomson's prosecution of Jeff Washington was seriously compromised is well beyond any reasonable doubt. While the legal establishment would like nothing better than to sweep this mess under another carpet, Thomson's arrest earlier this month on charges that eerily echo the 1999 accusations demand a full-blown federal probe into possible prosecutorial misconduct.

In the meantime, this story of a father's tireless devotion should serve as an inspiration - and a warning to courthouse cliques everywhere.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

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