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Updated Dec 20, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Ex-officer Richard Chrisman sentenced in 2010 fatal shooting case

PHOENIX — A former Phoenix police officer was sentenced Friday to seven
years in prison on assault and manslaughter charges after the fatal 2010
shooting of man during a domestic violence call, concluding a 3-year-old case
that boiled down to dueling accounts by the only witnesses — the defendant and
his partner.

Richard Chrisman was originally charged with aggravated assault, second-degree
murder and animal cruelty.

He was convicted in September of assault, but jurors failed to reach verdicts
on the other counts. He later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a deal with
prosecutors that spared him a second trial.

Judge Warren Granville sentenced him Friday to seven years in prison for
manslaughter and five years on the assault conviction with both sentences to run

While noting that Chrisman was doing his job, the judge also said he went too

“Society entrusted you with the power and authority of a law enforcement
officer,” Granville told Chrisman. “On this occasion, you failed to meet that

Chrisman was arrested after he shot and killed Danny Rodriguez, 28, and the
man’s pit bull when he and his partner responded to Rodriguez’s home after a
frantic call from his mother that her son was acting violent.

Chrisman maintained the shootings were self-defense but his partner told jurors
the situation had been defused before Chrisman opened fire.

At his sentencing hearing, Rodriguez’s mother tearfully pleaded with the judge
to sentence Chrisman to the maximum of 15 years in prison.

“I feel so guilty,” Elvira Fernandez told the judge. “If I never picked up
that telephone and made that call, Daniel would be alive today.”

Several police officers testified on Chrisman’s behalf, calling him a good man
who supported his colleagues and loved his job.

“I’ve never seen him lose his temper on or off the job,” Phoenix officer Matt
Morgan said.

Chrisman pleaded for leniency, calling the events of that day a tragedy.

“But I would ask that you understand that that tragedy reaches both sides,”
he said.

Outside court, Fernandez said she was disappointed with the sentence.

“It just didn’t seem fair,” she said, holding back tears.

Chrisman had the support throughout his case of the Phoenix Law Enforcement
Association, which found his conviction to be a travesty of justice.

“Rich is kind of an unfortunate victim of the justice system,” said Ken
Crane, the union’s vice president. “He was just trying to do his job.”

During his trial, Chrisman described a chaotic scene in which his partner
shirked his duties as backup while Rodriguez’s pit bull became aggressive. He
said that at one point, the dog lunged at him leading him to shoot the animal

Chrisman explained how pepper spray and his stun gun failed to subdue the
suspect as the two struggled, and Rodriguez picked up a bicycle from the living
room floor.

“He was going to smash my brains in … I fired two rounds, center mass,”
Chrisman told jurors.

Prosecutors accused him of being reckless and escalating the situation
unnecessarily. Defense attorneys noted that Chrisman had never fired his weapon
once during 10 years on the force and was defending himself.

But Chrisman’s partner, Sergio Virgillo, told jurors Chrisman was on a tear
from the moment he approached Rodriguez’s door, then pulled out his gun and
pressed it to the suspect’s head. Chrisman denied the allegations and accused
Virgillo of not being there to help with the struggling suspect, who was high on
methamphetamine, and at one point even taking a personal call on his cell phone
during the incident.

Chrisman was fired about five months after the shooting. Virgillo remains
employed with the Phoenix Police Department.


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