PHOENIX — A jury on Tuesday began deliberating the fate of a former Phoenix police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed suspect and his dog.
The deliberations came after the defense attorney for now-fired officer Richard Chrisman said the defendant’s partner made up a story that led to the charges, and the prosecutor said the partner stood up and told the truth after seeing a crime.
Attorney Craig Mehrens told jurors that officer Sergio Virgillo’s testimony was designed to protect him from allegations he left his partner alone in a dangerous situation because he was himself scared. His client acted in self-defense, he said.
“I think there’s good reason to believe that what you heard from officer Virgillo is not what happened,” Mehrens said. “And what you heard from Mr. Chrisman is what he was trained to do.”
Prosecutor Juan Martinez said the defense was trying to work around the facts to clear Chrisman.
“It is a nonsensical story that they have brought forth for you to consider,” he told jurors, who were scheduled to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.
Chrisman faces second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty charges for the fatal October 2010 shootings of 29-year-old Danny Rodriguez and his dog. He has pleaded not guilty.
The former officer acknowledged under questioning last week that he was the aggressor in the early part of the confrontation but that he was just doing his job.
Chrisman and Virgillo were called to the south Phoenix trailer park by Rodriguez’s mother, who told them her son was violent and had punched a hole in a wall.
Chrisman and Virgillo confronted Rodriguez at the door to the trailer, and Chrisman forced his way inside. Rodriguez asked to see a warrant, and prosecutors say Chrisman then put his pistol against Rodriguez’s head and told him he didn’t need one.
Mehrens says that didn’t happen, but Martinez told jurors Tuesday that DNA on the officer’s pistol and a bruise on the dead man’s left temple shows it happened the way Virgillo testified.
The two officers then had difficulty controlling Rodriguez, and both fired their stun guns with little effect. Chrisman also used pepper spray on Rodriguez then shot his dog, who prosecutors say was not threatening the officers.
Virgillo said Rodriguez then got his bicycle and tried to leave the tiny trailer home, but Chrisman would not allow it and a tussle began.
Chrisman’s lawyer said Virgillo fled the trailer home because he was scared and couldn’t see the events that followed.
Chrisman testified that Rodriguez lifted up the bike and he thought he was going to use it to “smash my brains in,” so he fired twice, hitting Rodriguez in the chest.
Martinez told jurors there was no sign the bicycle had been hit with gunshot residue, and that they should believe Virgillo’s version — that he saw what happened and Rodriguez’s hands were up when he was shot. Mehrens said no tests were done on the bike and jurors can’t speculate.
Mehrens told jurors there’s just no reason a nine-year veteran officer who had never fired his gun in the line of duty would just snap one day and kill someone for no reason.
A second-degree murder conviction carries a 15- to 22-year prison sentence, but mitigating factors could reduce it to 10 years. Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the charge for allegedly putting the gun to Rodriguez’s head, carries a 5- to 15- year sentence. The misdemeanor animal cruelty charge carries no jail time.