HOUSTON - A Texas sheriff's deputy and her husband were indicted Thursday on murder charges in the death of a man they restrained during a late night confrontation outside of a restaurant while she was off duty.
A Harris County grand jury in Houston returned the indictment against Chauna and Terry Thompson for the fatal altercation with 24-year-old John Hernandez. The Thompsons, who declined to testify before the grand jury, will be allowed to turn themselves in, District Attorney Kim Ogg said.
The grand jury heard from more than a dozen witnesses and viewed video of the May 28 incident that bystanders recorded, Ogg said.
Hernandez died three days after the confrontation, which occurred outside a Denny's restaurant in Sheldon, 17 miles (27.36 kilometers) northeast of Houston.
Ogg said Chauna Thompson, a Harris County deputy, was indicted on a murder charge because Texas law holds a person equally criminally responsible if that individual aids or otherwise participates in the act.
"We grieve with the Hernandez family and wish them Godspeed during this difficult time. Today we moved one step closer to justice for John Hernandez," Ogg told reporters in announcing the indictments.
Relatives of Hernandez said they are pleased the Thompsons were indicted, but that they won't stop putting pressure on authorities to bring justice in the case.
Melissa Hernandez, a cousin who was among more than 40 people who gathered at the Denny's for a news conference Thursday after the indictments, said the charges are "a great step in the right direction." She added: "It's not gonna stop here. We're gonna keep fighting. We are gonna keep pushing until we get the justice that John deserves."
Attorney Scot Courtney, who is representing Terry Thompson, said there wasn't enough evidence to warrant a murder indictment against his client, and he criticized the district attorney's office for putting the case before a grand jury so quickly.
Despite the indictments, the criminal investigation continues with the assistance of the Texas Rangers and the U.S. Justice Department, Ogg said.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who appeared at the Thursday announcement with the district attorney, said Chauna Thompson has cooperated with the internal investigation that the sheriff's office is conducting. She remains on administrative leave indefinitely and her employment status will not be decided until after the internal investigation, the sheriff said.
"We've all worked very hard to try to do what was right and to make sure that at the end justice will prevail. We support the decision of the grand jury," Gonzalez said.
Hernandez was Latino and the Thompsons are white, but authorities have not said that race was a factor in the incident.
Investigators say Terry Thompson saw an intoxicated Hernandez urinating outside the restaurant and that he restrained Hernandez while his wife helped. A medical examiner ruled that Hernandez died of lack of oxygen to the brain caused by strangulation and chest compression.
Cellphone video recorded by an unidentified bystander has been released by the bystander's attorney and posted on local media websites. The footage shows a man lying on top of Hernandez. Jack Carroll, the attorney for the person who recorded the video, has said the man restraining Hernandez used an illegal chokehold.