John Thompson Murders Kenneth Bruhmuller

John Thompson was sentenced to death by the State of North Carolina for the murder of Kenneth Bruhmuller

According to court documents John Thompson would rob a Domino’s Pizza and would shoot and kill the manager Kenneth Bruhmuller

John Thompson would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death

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Offender Number:0406487                                          
Inmate Status:ACTIVE
Probation/Parole/Post Release Status:INACTIVE
Birth Date:08/13/1968
Current Location:CENTRAL PRISON

John Thompson Case

Evidence presented by the State at trial, including video surveillance, indicated that on Saturday, 31 March 2001, defendant entered Domino’s Pizza on South Chapman Street in Greensboro, North Carolina, shortly before the business was to open at 11:00 a.m. Defendant ordered five large pizzas from Kenneth Bruhmuller, the manager and only employee present.   Defendant was a former assistant manager at that same Domino’s and knew Bruhmuller.   The order was placed in defendant’s first name, “John,” and defendant was charged a discounted price.   Bruhmuller and defendant then exited the store.

Domino’s area supervisor, Will Spivey, testified that it was the common practice of Domino’s employees to wash their vehicles at the rear entrance of the building.   Spivey also testified that managers usually parked their cars in the alleyway leading to the rear of the building.   After defendant and Bruhmuller went outside, Bruhmuller moved his car, which was blocking the alleyway, and defendant backed his car down the alleyway toward the rear of the building.   A short time later, defendant was recorded by video surveillance reentering the building, but he soon walked out of view of the lobby area video camera.   Several minutes passed before the lobby area camera showed defendant’s car pulling out of the alleyway, after which time the building began to fill with smoke.   It was later determined that approximately $195.00 was missing from a cash drawer in the business’ office area.

When other employees arrived around 11:15 a.m., the building was filled with smoke, and flames were rising out of a broken window.   The employees opened the front doors, crawled a few feet into the building, and yelled Bruhmuller’s name, but received no response.   Greensboro Fire Department personnel responded at the scene shortly thereafter and discovered Bruhmuller’s body on the floor in the office area.   Fire Department Captain Gary Church testified that Bruhmuller appeared to have “a fatal wound ․ from a gunshot” or “a wound to the head, from some type of explosion.”   Captain David L. Leonard, the arson investigator, believed that the fire originated in the break/storage room area due to the ignition of “readily available material,” on a couch and, after ruling out other causes, concluded that it could only have been started by “human intervention.”

Spivey and assistant manager Kenneth Leland Smith identified defendant as the suspect in the surveillance video taken from inside the store on the day of the fire.   Defendant was subsequently arrested and transported to the Greensboro Police Department for an interview.

A pat down search incidental to defendant’s arrest revealed that he was carrying Bruhmuller’s driver’s license and social security card.   In a subsequent search, police discovered a knife in defendant’s front right pocket and a spent, twenty-gauge shotgun shell casing in his front left pocket.

Defendant signed a consent form allowing police to search his vehicle.   In the trunk, police discovered a sawed-off twenty-gauge Model 37 Winchester shotgun, a short sword, a bayonet with a cover, and a black ski mask.   On the floorboard of the car’s interior, police located a piece of crumpled up white paper that matched printer paper used to label pizza boxes found at the scene of the crime.   Police also found a bag containing seventeen loose twenty-gauge shotgun shells and an empty, twenty-five-count box of shotgun shells.

After being advised of his Miranda rights and signing a waiver of rights form, defendant gave a statement to Greensboro Police Department Detective Norman Rankin.   Defendant said, “I’m sorry Saturday ever happened.”   He began crying and said, “That was stupid.”   He further stated that his bills were “piling up” and that he could not get a job.   Defendant continued, saying “[i]t was an accident.   Going to Domino’s was the accident.   I went there just to get the money.   I planned this when I drove by the store.”

Defendant later told Detective Rankin that he took $200.00 from a drawer in the office, as well as Bruhmuller’s wallet, which contained an additional $20.00 to $25.00.   Regarding the killing of Bruhmuller, defendant said that “[i]t’s like the gun fired by itself, ‘cause, I swear, I don’t remember pulling the trigger.”   Defendant identified the weapon as a twenty-gauge shotgun that had been “sawed off.”   Defendant said that he left the building after it caught on fire, but did not recall setting the fire.   According to defendant, he later threw Bruhmuller’s wallet away but kept his driver’s license and social security card.   During the interview Detective Rankin wrote what defendant told him verbatim, and defendant then read and signed the written statement.   Responding to specific questions posed by Detective Rankin, defendant admitted to robbing Domino’s of $200.00 because he needed money to pay bills, although he denied that the robbery was planned.   He admitted to using a shotgun, but stated that the shooting of “Ken” was accidental, and again denied setting the fire.

North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner John D. Butts, M.D. testified concerning the autopsy he performed on Bruhmuller’s body.   The autopsy revealed two shotgun entry wounds to Bruhmuller’s facial region, one in the central part of the face and the other in the chin and mouth area.   Dr. Butts concluded that the wounds were inflicted from a distance that “was close, but not very, very close ․ consistent with a distance of several feet.”   Dr. Butts testified to his opinion that Bruhmuller died as a result of the gunshot wounds, either of which would have been instantaneously fatal.   According to Dr. Butts, Bruhmuller’s air passages were not sooty, an indication that he had not inhaled smoke, and the level of carbon monoxide in his blood was inconsistent with someone who had inhaled “combustion product gases” from a fire.

Special Agent David Santora of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was qualified at trial as an expert in firearm and toolmark identification.   Santora testified that he determined the spent shotgun shell casing found in defendant’s pocket was fired from the shotgun found in defendant’s car.   Santora also testified that pellets recovered from a pool of blood in the Domino’s office and pellets recovered from Bruhmuller’s head during the autopsy were derived from a gauge of shotgun shell that was “most consistent in size and weight” with the gauge of the unspent shells found in defendant’s car.   Santora explained that the firearm found in defendant’s car was a single-action shotgun that holds only one shell at a time.   Agent Santora testified that to load this shotgun, “One would insert a live shotgun shell into the barrel, and it would stop, so it was flush with the end.   Close the gun.   It would lock up.  (Demonstrated.)  And then the hammer would be manually cocked, and the trigger would be pulled.  (Demonstrated.)  And that would fire the shotgun shell.”   According to Santora, the firearm would have to be reloaded, the hammer cocked, and the trigger pulled between every shot.

During defendant’s capital sentencing proceeding, forensic psychologist Dr. James H. Hilkey testified on defendant’s behalf.   According to Dr. Hilkey’s testimony and written evaluation, defendant informed the doctor that on the morning of the crime, he had consumed alcohol and had smoked marijuana.   Defendant stated that he drove to a local car wash, but because it was crowded, he decided to wash his car at Domino’s.   Defendant said that when he opened his trunk, he saw the shotgun and decided to use it to take enough money to satisfy his bills.   He stated that he did not intend to kill Bruhmuller and that the first shot was an accident.   When asked about the second shot, defendant said, tearfully, that he knew the first wound was fatal and did not want Bruhmuller to suffer.   Dr. Hilkey testified to his opinion that defendant “fits clearly the diagnosis for both alcohol and substance abuse” and, at the time of the killing, defendant “was operating under the influence of a mental or emotional disturbance.”

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