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Updated Aug 5, 2013 - 1:11 pm

Murder trial for ex-Phoenix officer begins

PHOENIX — Jury selection began 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 said 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 said 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 him. At one point Rodriguez
removed the Taser probes that were on his chest.

Investigators also said 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

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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