Stranger Than Fiction

Christopher W. Thompson’s cases range from ordinary to extraordinary

Published in 2007 Ohio Rising Stars — July 2007

While he handles his share of traffic tickets, Christopher Thompson also defends people against charges that could double as plot lines for TV crime dramas. One case involved a mother accused of setting fire to her house with her two kids still inside. Another client hid in his deep freezer while the police tried to force him out of the house with tear gas and canine units. These aren’t defendants who win points in the court of public opinion, but Thompson is unfazed by unpopular clients.

The Dayton-based defense attorney knows people jump to conclusions about his clients. He’s gotten unfriendly looks and questions about how he can represent some of the least likable defendants. Thompson’s answer is simple: “I have a job to do.”

It’s these bizarre cases that tend to land Thompson and his clients in the media. In 2001, he served as co-counsel for Dr. Maynard Muntzing—a man accused of slipping medication into his pregnant girlfriend’s drink to cause a miscarriage. While Thompson normally avoids giving statements to the media, this case attracted so much attention that the defense team decided to return calls to Inside Edition. The phone call was scheduled for September 11, but the terrorist attacks took the focus off Muntzig, who eventually ended up with prison time.

Thompson’s journey to defense work started on the other side of the aisle. Thompson worked part-time as a law clerk for the Cleveland prosecutor’s office while he was earning his law degree at Case Western Reserve University. After graduation, he spent five years as a lawyer for the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office in Dayton and then joined a small practice in nearby Vandalia focused on civil and business cases. But Thompson missed spending time in court, so in 1998 he opened his own criminal defense practice in downtown Dayton.

Both the social and competitive aspects of being a defense attorney appeal to Thompson. On a typical day, he might attend docket calls and a motion hearing and make trips to the jail to talk with clients. He’s constantly in the courthouse talking to attorneys, judges and witnesses. He tackles research and writing in the snippets of time in between. When there’s a jury trial, his competitive edge comes alive. “You have to convince 12 people you don’t know that your position is right,” he says.

Even Thompson’s pretrial ritual is made for TV—visiting the crime scene with only his camera for company. “It helps me visualize what people are saying,” he says. If the case involves different addresses, for instance, he will know how far apart they are when witnesses detail their movements. He will be familiar with the layout of the windows and doors in an apartment.

But all his careful preparation can’t guarantee success in the courtroom. “The hardest part is having the client who looks you in the eyes and says he’s 100 percent innocent, he didn’t do it, and you believe him,” Thompson says. “Knowing that if I blow this, an innocent man goes to prison.” While he gives every case a full effort, these situations call for even more care and energy.

It’s also a challenge to deal with clients from a range of different socioeconomic backgrounds—a reality that calls for a special set of people skills. “You have to assess the personalities and see if they’re going to trust you,” he says. But despite his best efforts, there are still surprises. One of Thompson’s clients once unexpectedly withdrew his plea right before he was to be sentenced for murder.

It’s the kind of plot twist even the most devoted Law & Order fans wouldn’t be able to predict.

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