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Aaron Thompson's Appeal of Bizarre Child Death Case Fails — but Is It Over?

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Update: Aaron Thompson, who was convicted in 2009 of child abuse resulting in death and more in regard to his daughter, Aaroné, despite the fact that her body was never found, has lost his latest attempt to gain his freedom. The Colorado Court of Appeals narrowly rejected his argument that he'd been unconstitutionally prevented from using the lawyer of his choice.

Our coverage of Thompson's conviction on 31 of the 55 counts filed against him, originally published on September 29, 2009, has been incorporated into this post.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruling, on view below, contains a synopsis of the case against Thompson, which on first blush strains credulity. According to the document, Thompson lived with his girlfriend, Shely Lowe, as well as her five children, two kids of his own, including Aaroné, and Lowe's half-brother. This collective came to the attention of authorities in November 2005, when Thompson called police to say that Aaroné had run away from home following an argument over a cookie.

A subsequent search failed to locate Aaroné, but it unearthed plenty of suspicious information. Eric Williams Sr., Lowe's former boyfriend, who fathered two of her kids, told investigators that Lowe had told him the previous year that Aaroné had "died one evening in the bathtub," prompting her and Thompson to bury her "far away."

Tabitha Graves, a friend of Lowe's, provided a similar account, albeit one whose details differed. She said Lowe divulged that Aaroné had been found dead in her bed, prompting her and Thompson to dispose of her body and "concoct a plan" to cover up her passing.

As for the other kids, they all claimed that Aaroné had run away from home, but the information they disclosed about her favorite food, favorite color and most recent Halloween costume left authorities with the impression that they'd been coached. And indeed, after they were placed with foster families, the children maintained that Thompson and Lowe had instructed them to lie to the cops. They also said they'd been the victims of physical abuse that went beyond their initial description, "whoopins," and revealed that Aaroné hadn't been living at the house with them for a substantial amount of time — perhaps as long as two years.

A grand jury ultimately indicted Thompson on sixty charges, including child abuse resulting in death, false reporting, abuse of a corpse, assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child abuse and conspiracy. Lowe would likely have faced similar accusations, but she died during the investigation.

By the time the matter went to trial, five counts against Thompson had fallen away. But that didn't hinder prosecutor Bob Chappell and his team, who, as we noted in 2009, "had one enormous advantage going for them: Thompson is demonstrably one of the vilest pricks to ever draw breath — a glowering slab of doom according to the seven surviving children once sentenced to live with him.... So horrible were the tales that came out during the course of the long trial that the jury was bound and determined to convict Thompson of something just to put a set of bars between him and them."

True enough, jurors found Thompson guilty of the most serious charges against him, and he was ultimately sentenced to 114 years in prison. However, he appealed because he had wanted to be defended by David Lane, a constitutional attorney who appears frequently in this space. As noted in the appeals-court decision, Lane had said he wouldn't charge Thompson, who was indigent, but he wanted the state to pay for investigators and experts to supplement his efforts. Because Colorado refused to do so, Lane withdrew, leaving Thompson to use public defenders.

The appeals-court ruling focuses on two questions beyond whether Thompson's conviction was proper: "Do indigent defendants in criminal cases have (1) a constitutional right to be represented by private counsel who are willing to represent them without cost; and simultaneously (2) a constitutional right to receive state-funded ancillary services, such as investigators and experts?"

The ruling by the three-judge panel was hardly a slam dunk. All three judges back Thompson's conviction. But on the matter involving Lane, "we find ourselves at an unusual divide," admits Judge Steve Bernard, who authored the ruling. "Judge [John] Webb 'take[s] no position' on the analysis that the reader is about to encounter, but he concurs with the decision to affirm defendant's convictions. Judge [Stephanie Erin] Dunn dissents from this part of the opinion."

Specifically, Bernard finds that the State of Colorado was under no obligation to provide resources to assist Lane, even though Thompson was unable to pay for them — a contention that Webb accepts. But in a dissent, Dunn opines that "in my view, because the trial court erred in failing to recognize its authority to consider and authorize the requested support services, Mr. Thompson effectively was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the counsel of his choice."

Dunn's conclusion opens the door to another possible appeal, this time to the Colorado Supreme Court. Thus far, Thompson's current representatives haven't said whether they'll take this path. But at this point, there's still no closure on the disappearance of Aaroné, which dates back to at least 2005 — and perhaps 2003. Here's the Colorado Court of Appeals decision.

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