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.
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,"
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