If you live in Maricopa County or are a trial watcher you have heard of Richard Chrisman.
He was a police officer with the city of Phoenix who responded to a domestic violence call and ended up killing the suspect. He was charged by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty (he shot a dog as well).
During the first trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the aggravated assault charge but hung on the second-degree murder and animal cruelty charge. After the jury hung on the two counts, the prosecutor had a decision to make. Juan Martinez, and his boss Bill Montgomery, could have gone forward with a retrial of the two counts, offer a plea agreement or dismissed the charges. It appeared that the prosecutor would be going forward with the retrial.
However, Wednesday we learned that the parties had reached an agreement and Chrisman pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a Class 2 felony. The plea agreement set the possible sentence range between seven to 14 years, meaning that he will be sentenced to at least seven years in prison but no more than 14 years. Had he been found guilty of second-degree murder, he would have been facing more than 14 years.
Once he is sentenced, he will be transferred to the Arizona Department of Corrections and will likely be placed into a type of “protected” custody or population.
Since the plea agreement contains a sentence range, it will be up to Judge Warren Granville on Dec. 20 to decide what Chrisman’s fate will be. During the sentencing, each side can present an argument as to why he should be sentenced on the higher end or on the lower end. Martinez can call the mother of the deceased to speak to Granville or any others he believes support his position. In contrast, the defense can call character witnesses to support Chrisman. I find it likely that Chrisman will himself speak to the judge and beg for leniency.
The plea does not surprise me in that I believe it is an appropriate compromise in light of the circumstances of the killing and the resulting hung jury. It saves the taxpayers’ funds, man hours and, most importantly, it gives closure to the families of the victim and Chrisman.