Dwight S. Thompson, 76, Army officer, Howard Co. deputy state's attorney

December 19, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Dwight Stanley Thompson, a former deputy state's attorney in Howard County and retired Army lieutenant colonel, died of heart failure Tuesday at his Columbia home. He was 76.

Mr. Thompson had been a Howard County prosecutor for several years when William R. Hymes came into office as state's attorney in January 1979.

"I looked over the staff and all the other attorneys and he seemed to be the best choice for deputy," Mr. Hymes recalled. "I couldn't have made a better choice. Anything good that you can think of to say about a person in that particular capacity would apply to Dwight."

Mr. Thompson served as deputy throughout Mr. Hymes' 16-year term, overseeing grand juries and the hiring of personnel at a time when the size of the office - like the county itself - grew sharply, from 16 employees in 1979 to about 45 in 1995, the year both men retired.

It was a challenging time to be in law enforcement in the county, Mr. Hymes said. With Columbia a decade in the making, the county had enough new wealth to draw burglars but was still rural enough to be an attractive dumping ground for homicide victims, Mr. Hymes recalled.

"It became very popular to murder someone and dump the body in Howard County," Mr. Hymes said. "At one time we had 13 murder trials going at the same time."

An affable man who penned funny poems to family and co-workers, Mr. Thompson also brought a strict, chain-of-command approach to the office, dressing down prosecutors who offered unauthorized plea bargains in certain cases.

"Those were the times the Thompson temper could be displayed," Mr. Hymes said. "His famous words were `I had a chat with so-and-so today,' and I knew what he meant."

At the same time, Mr. Thomson was not afraid to buck his boss if he thought he was wrong, such as when Mr. Hymes approved a 1990 plea deal in the shooting death of Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf. The deal allowed Francisco Rodriguez to plead guilty to second-degree murder and to testify against the shooter, Eric Tirado, in return for having his life sentence reduced to 15 years.

Mr. Thompson spoke out against the deal in 1998, when it became public.

"I didn't participate in the final stages of it because I so disagreed with taking the plea for Rodriguez," Thompson told The Sun at the time. "The crime was an assassination. They both [Tirado and Rodriguez] should have paid a hefty punishment for it."

Born in Derby, Conn., Mr. Thompson delivered milk before classes at Seymour High School and played on the basketball and baseball teams after school. After graduating in 1946, he was offered a place on the New York Giants farm team, but joined the Army instead.

He served in Japan in 1946 and 1947 and upon his return, attended the University of Connecticut. While in college, he was named an All-American in soccer, served as president of his senior class and met his future wife, Cleora Barnes.

He went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring from the Army after 26 years with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His last post, from 1970 to 1973, was as provost marshal at Fort Meade. While there, he attended law school at night at the University of Maryland - laying the groundwork for his second career as a prosecutor.

An avid reader of literary classics, he had his children act out the likes of King Lear when they tired of the usual bedtime stories, said daughter Susan Wright Thompson of Newton, Mass.

"My father used to take offense when people would say, `How do you have all these kids in the arts? Is your wife an artist?" said Ms. Thompson, an actress, noting that one of her brothers is a violinist, and other siblings have studied literature and languages.

"He prided himself in being a well-rounded, kind of Renaissance man," she said. "He could fight in the war and deal with the defense of our nation, but he could write poetry and read the latest translation of Homer."

In recent years, Mr. Thompson devoted himself full-time to caring for his wife, who has been in poor health.

A memorial service will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, Ellicott City. A funeral with full military honors will be at Arlington National Cemetery at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Katharine Linzer of Baltimore and Mary Iyer of Lubbock, Texas; two sons, Downs Thompson of Coto de Caza, Calif., and Jon Thompson of Lexington Park; a brother, David Thompson of Seymour, Conn.; a sister, Marion Kozey of Ansonia, Conn.; and 13 grandchildren.

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