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Man Guilty of First-Degree Murder in Death of Arizona Cop

September 03, 2003

Man Guilty of First-Degree Murder in Death of Arizona Cop

Mark Shaffer, The Arizona Republic

The gunman responsible for Flagstaff's first police officer to die in the line of duty was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday by a Coconino County judge.

A cheer broke out in the packed courtroom upon the verdict; among those in attendance were about 20 police officers.

Eric Clark, 20, will be sentenced Oct. 2 by Superior Court Judge H. Jeffrey.

Coker and could receive life in prison. State prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case because Clark had been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the shooting of Officer Jeff Moritz.

Clark had entered a plea of guilty but insane.

Moritz stopped Clark in the wee hours of June 21, 2000, in the University Heights subdivision, after neighbors complained of a motorist repeatedly driving through the subdivison with loud music blaring from the stereo.

Clark, who was 17 at the time, confronted and struggled with Moritz , and fired a round from a .22-caliber handgun that struck the officer in the armpit just above his bulletproof vest. DNA evidence linked Clark to the handgun and to a knit cap which he discarded in the south Flagstaff subdivision later that day.

Clark's DNA also was found on a second weapon, a .44 Magnum, which was tossed out in a backpack in the same area.

The judge noted that everyone involved in the case agreed that Clark had paranoid delusions and suffered from the mental disease at the time of the shooting. But Coker said, in rejecting the insanity plea, that the illness wasn't so severe that Clark didn't know the difference between right and wrong.

The judge said Clark had made statements to witnesses in Flagstaff's Thorpe Park before the shooting that he had planned to kill a police officer. Coker also noted that Clark drove in such a manner as to invite a police officer to stop the pickup he was driving.

After fatally shooting the officer, he fled the scene and avoided capture for 16 hours. Coker noted that Clark "quit his resistance when he knew his life was in danger" after his capture, and followed instructions while being interrogated by Flagstaff police.

"While he was affected by the mental condition, the evidence shows that he didn't distort reality so much as to know it wasn't wrong," Coker said.

Bob White, Flagstaff's deputy police chief, said the judge "delivered the verdict that from our standpoint was obvious."

White said he "felt drained" after waiting for the case to come to trial more than three years as mental experts debated Clark's ability to stand trial.

"There's nothing to celebrate here because on that day Flagstaff lost two of its sons," said White referring to Moritz, a hometown boy, and Clark, a once-promising prep football player before his descent into mental illness.

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