Details of shooting emerge in Texas cop killer trial
Brandon Daniel appeared to have a blank stare and his speech was slurred and lethargic, moments after he shot and killed Austin police officer Jaime Padron
By Andrea Ball and Jazmine Ulloa
AUSTIN — Brandon Daniel appeared to have a blank stare and his speech was slurred and lethargic, moments after he shot and killed Austin police officer Jaime Padron, witnesses testified Tuesday.
But Daniel smiled and winked at officer Albert Arevalo as he took him away from the location, asking if he would get his motorcycle back and in what county the crime had occurred, Arevalo told jurors.
"He asked for a possible sentence for his actions," the officer recalled on the stand. "He wanted to know whether he was going to get life or death."
Once at the Police Department's downtown headquarters, Arevalo said Daniel made the statement, "I killed a cop."
The testimony capped the first day of a capital murder trial for Daniel, who is facing life in prison without parole or the death penalty if convicted.
Other officers and emergency responders described a jarring scene as they arrived at the North Austin Walmart in the minutes after Padron was shot.
By the time Sgt. Scott Perry arrived, the scene was in chaos.
He saw a man lying on the floor, a large pool of blood around him. An officer with a dazed, shocked expression was kneeling over Padron. A large group of people had gathered by the front of the store.
"They were screaming," Perry said. "There were a couple of people crying. There were a couple women just wailing."
Perry had been called to the scene to assist a fellow officer, but he didn't know what was going on. He was confused by what his eyes were seeing.
"I just didn't think this was what I was going into," he said. "I hadn't prepared myself."
He soon started to piece together what had happened. He ordered the crowd to back up and for the other officer to begin CPR.
Perry, meanwhile, kneeled down, saw the hole in Padron's throat and put his thumb in to slow the bleeding.
He later found three shell casings. He ordered witnesses to be separated. He told another officer to start photographing the scene.
He noted that Padron's gun was still in the holster. The safety used to keep the gun in that holster was still in place.
He didn't recognize Padron. But officer Steven Martinez did.
Martinez was at a Jack in the Box drive-thru when he got the call. When he arrived, three other units were there. He and another police officer pried open the locked sliding door, using such force that they "yanked the door right off the hinges," Martinez said.
He walked in the door and looked at the officer.
"Oh my God, it's Jaime," he recalled saying.
In the early hours of April 6, 2012, Brandon Daniel ambled through a North Austin Walmart, swaying through the aisles and dropping items, before he encountered a store employee and Austin police officer Jaime Padron, as seen in a security camera video played Tuesday in the courtroom.
In the soundless footage, the deadly interaction happens in seconds: Padron approaches Daniel. Daniel begins running toward the front entrance of the store. Padron and two Walmart employees — Lincoln LeMere and Archie Jordy — follow suit.
More than two dozen audience members leaned in, the room silent, as they saw what happened next on a flat screen television by the jury box.
As Daniel approaches the door, Padron tackles him and the two slide several feet across the floor. The few customers around scatter. The officer and Daniel struggle for a moment, then Padron stops moving. Jordy and LeMere immediately restrain Daniel, who is still on the floor.
Jordy's testimony to the jury filled in the details that the footage did not. After Daniel was taken down, he continued to struggle, Jordy said. Daniel still had the gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger, he said.
At that point, Daniel — who had already fired two shots — fired the gun again, Jordy said. That time, the bullet went toward the ceiling, he said.
The video shows Jordy grabbing the gun and tossing it aside. The gun slides a few feet across the floor. Jordy said he then took Padron's walkie-talkie and said something like "Officer down, need assistance."
After the shooting, Jordy said, Daniel "was giggling, basically smiling. I never heard him say a word."
The video shows several employees leaning over Padron, who Jordy said was bleeding profusely from the neck. He put his hands over the wound, trying to stop the bleeding, he said. Then, as other employees took over, Jordy rushed to the front door and locked it to prevent other customers from entering the store.
In the minutes after the incident, the video shows the arrival of several police officers. Daniel is cuffed and removed from the store as an officer attempts to do CPR on the still motionless Padron.
Stark testimony continued Tuesday as Walmart workers and customers recounted their memories of the chase and struggle in which Austin police officer Jaime Padron was killed in the early hours of April 6, 2012.
Monica Lawson and Alma Gutierrez, then employees at the North Austin store, had been sorting through returns when they saw the officer run after Brandon Daniel and tackle him from behind near the front entrance, they told jurors on the first day of testimony in Daniel's capital murder trial.
Lawson said Daniel pulled out a gun and shot the officer, though she initially thought it was fake because she saw what she thought looked like confetti or paper in the air. "And I thought, 'Well that is real dumb,' and then a second shot came out, and I saw the blood," she said.
Gutierrez said she too had seen what appeared to be confetti.
"Unfortunately after that, I saw when the gun was put to the neck of the officer, and he shot again," Gutierrez said, recalling she had been in shocked and somewhat blanked out as Lawson asked her if that was blood.
The women said they ran to call 9-1-1 from the customer service center.
In a recording played for jurors, they frantically try to give a dispatcher the location of the store.
"An officer has been shot," Gutierrez was heard saying. "We need someone like now. ... Yes, he is a police officer and bleeding everywhere really bad."
On the stand Tuesday, Walmart employee Lincoln LeMere described the deadly struggle between officer Jaime Padron and Brandon Daniel, inciting tears and gasps from the audience as he remembered Daniel had chuckled after the shooting.
He looked over at Padron, who lied lifeless on the floor of the North Austin store, laughed and said, "'I killed a cop,'" LeMere told jurors on the first day of testimony of a capital murder trial for Daniel, charged in the April 2012 killing of the officer.
It was the first time LeMere, who has been honored by the Police Department for his help that night, had spoken about the incident in public.
Daniel had appeared intoxicated when he first walked in with a backpack and had been wandering the aisles with bloodshot eyes, LeMere and then employee, Sean McCarthy, testified. But he had not appeared to be a threat, and they had laughed about his demeanor while on a break, McCarthy said.
LeMere had called 3-1-1 to report a drunk person and met with Padron when the officer first arrived. He said Padron identified himself as an officer twice and grabbed Daniel's arm to ask him some questions. But Daniel thwarted his arm and took a few steps before Padron tackled him to the ground, LeMere said.
"As the tackle was made, I remember hearing something not knowing what it was," LeMere testified. He came to find later, as he realized Padron was bleeding, it had been a gunshot.
In his opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutors and defense attorney took vastly different directions.
Prosecutor Bill Bishop didn't offer much detail of the events surrounding Padron's death. Instead, he laid out for jurors the evidence they would hear and see throughout the trial: witness accounts, video, Daniel's interview with police after the shooting. They will hear how Walmart employees restrained and disarmed Daniel; how Daniel confessed to police that he knew Padron was a police officer, looked him in the face and shot him; what the medical examiner said about Padron's death, Bishop said.
"You will see Brandon Daniel, what he's doing and how he's doing it," Bishop said.
Defense lawyer Russell Hunt Jr. tried to humanize Daniel, painting him as a man who once had it all. The accused killer had a degree in computer science and a great job as a web designer at Hewlett Packard, Hunt said. He had a promising future.
Then Daniel's girlfriend broke up with him, sending Daniel into an emotional tailspin, Hunt said. Daniel fell into a deep depression, leading to a Xanax addiction, Hunt said.
That drug, he said, can lead to major personality changes. It distorts the way people think, how they interpret external events and affect their memories, he said.
That's what Hunt maintains Daniel was dealing with on April 6, 2012, the morning Padron was killed in a North Austin Walmart off Parmer Lane. Daniel was in a fog, Hunt said. He was visibly intoxicated. He gave varying accounts of what happened that night and — even in the middle of an interrogation — was appropriate and polite to police, Hunt said.
None of this excuses what happened, the lawyer said.
"We're not saying you should walk Brandon Daniel out the door," he said.
But the defense wants the jury to understand Daniel's life before the shooting. They want them to agree that the crime doesn't meet the definition of capital murder, Hunt said.
Copyright 2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas