Murder trial for ex-Phoenix officer set to begin
Authorities say then-Officer Richard Chrisman broke the law in an incident that ended in the death of a man and his dog
By Jacques Billeaud
PHOENIX — Jury selection is set to begin Monday for a former Phoenix police officer charged with murder and animal cruelty in the fatal shootings of an unarmed man and his dog during a domestic dispute call.
Authorities say then-Officer Richard Chrisman broke the law in his response to the 2010 call that ended with the death of 29-year-old Daniel Rodriguez at the south Phoenix trailer that Rodriguez shared with his mother. Chrisman disputes that he acted improperly, saying the shooting was justified because Rodriguez had reached for the officer's gun during a tussle that preceded the shooting.
Attorneys are expected to make opening arguments Wednesday.
Rodriguez's mother had called police from a neighbor's trailer because she said her son had damaged property inside their trailer after the two had gotten into an argument on Oct. 5, 2010.
Investigators say that when Rodriguez questioned the officers' right to be inside the trailer, Chrisman drew his pistol, put its muzzle on Rodriguez's temple and said he didn't need a warrant to be there. Chrisman's partner told investigators that there was no threat being made against either officer. Chrisman denies that he put his gun to Rodriguez's temple.
Authorities say Chrisman put his gun back in its holster and tried to grab Rodriguez, leading to a struggle in which both officers tried unsuccessfully to restrain Rodriguez and used their stun guns on Rodriguez, who at one point removed the Taser probes that were on his chest.
Investigators also say Chrisman shot pepper spray into Rodriguez's eyes and drew his pistol a second time and shot Rodriguez's barking dog. Chrisman's partner told investigators that the dog wasn't attacking either officer.
Another scuffle between Chrisman and Rodriguez began when Rodriguez said he wanted to leave on his bicycle. At some point, Chrisman drew his pistol again and shot Rodriguez in the chest from about two to three feet away. Rodriguez fell to the ground and was later pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
The case, to a large degree, boils down to conflicting accounts from Chrisman and his partner, Officer Sergio Virgillo — the only two people, besides Rodriguez, inside the trailer to witness the escalating confrontation.
Virgillo told investigators that he never saw a weapon in Rodriguez's hands and that there was no threat that required deadly force. Chrisman's attorney has said Virgillo had exhausted all options for controlling Rodriguez before he fired the shots and that Virgillo abandoned Chrisman and walked out of the trailer.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office is prosecuting the case, declined to say whether there was other evidence beyond the two officers' accounts to back up their contention that Chrisman committed a crime.
Chrisman had pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty charges. The nine-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department was fired about five months after Rodriguez's death.
Defense attorneys had complained earlier in the case that an account of the shooting that was filed into court records didn't contain any information to their client.
"We look forward to having the trial start and having a chance to tell our side of the story," said Chrisman's attorney, Craig Mehrens.
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