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Defense attorney: Hernandez punched fellow Denny’s patron and sparked fatal confrontation

June 13, 2018 GMT

John Hernandez, the 24-year-old Houston father who was killed during a late-night confrontation at a Crosby diner pushed then punched the husband of a former county deputy, starting a struggle that ended his life, defense lawyers told a jury Wednesday.

Terry Thompson, the husband of fired Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Chauna Thomson, is on trial for Hernandez’s murder last year.

“John Hernandez balls up his fist and smacks him in the eye,” defense attorney Scot Courtney told jurors during opening statements. “His response was his ‘fatal mistake.’”

Courtney was countering a prosecutor’s earlier argument that Hernandez’s ‘fatal mistake’ was going outside of the Denny’s to urinate, after taking his common-law wife and four-year-old daughter to the popular restaurant after 11 p.m. on Sunday, May 28, 2017.

The statements from both sides that opened the week-long trial were the first new details in a fatal encounter that garnered national headlines after cell phone video surfaced showing Terry Thompson, 42, straddling Hernandez and administering what appeared to be a chokehold.


The video, which is 53 seconds long, is a glimpse into the 15-minute confrontation between the two men, who did not know each other and both were with their families at the restaurant for a late night meal. Chauna Thompson, who arrived at the restaurant after the altercation began, later gave Hernandez chest compressions after telling her husband to get off of the younger man because he had stopped breathing.

Lawyers for Thompson argued that he was trying to subdue a man that punched him after urinating in the parking lot as his wife drove up to meet him. He said that deputies called to the scene brought charges against Hernandez for allegedly assaulting Thompson.

“He had a tiger by the tail,” Courtney told jurors. “He’s got a guy he thinks is dangerous because he’s assaulted him.”

The defense attorney painted Hernandez as a belligerent and intoxicated patron who had, minutes earlier, tried to start a fight with a different patron and threatened to retrieve a gun from his vehicle. He said surveillance video from Dennys, and a 911 call from that patron, would show Hernandez was looking for a fight.

Earlier, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Jules Johnson told the jury Hernandez was trying to get back inside the restaurant when Thompson blocked his way.

Thompson held Hernandez in a chokehold, Johnson said, after throwing him to the ground.

“He continued to hold this chokehold until it is confirmed that Mr. Hernandez is no longer breathing,” Johnson said.

Hernandez died in a local hospital days after the confrontation, after being removed from life support.

The trial, in state District Judge Kelli Johnson’s court, is expected to last more than a week. If convicted of murder, Thompson faces the possibility of life in prison.

His wife is also charged with murder for helping hold Hernandez down.

Brian Rogers covers Houston crime and courts. You can email him at or follow him on Twitter at @brianjrogers.