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Juan Martinez Prosecuting Former Cop Richard Chrisman

Maricopa County prosecutor Juan Martinez is a busy man.  One would imagine that the time he has spent preparing for and prosecuting Jodi Arias has taken years of his life, and it’s not over.  He still has a retrial of the penalty phase off somewhere in the future – but the fact of the matter is he has other cases on his desk.  He is currently prosecuting former Phoenix Police Officer Richard Chrisman for second degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty stemming from a domestic violence call the officer responded to in October of 2010 in which Chrisman fatally shot 29 year old Daniel Rodriquez and his dog “Junior”.

On October 5, 2010 Rodriquez’s mother called police from a neighbors trailer after her son began destroying her property inside of the trailer and became angry and aggressive towards her.  Officer Chrisman and partner Officer Sergio Virgillo responded to the trailer and began knocking on the door.  When Daniel Rodriquez would not open the door, his mother reportedly gave officers permission to enter.  Within minutes, Daniel Rodriquez and his dog were both shot and killed by Chrisman.  This much is known, but the accounts of what happened in between differ.  The prosecution claims Chrismas abused his powers as an officer, manipulated the crime scene and lied about what happened prior to the shooting.  Chrisman claims he only shot after he was unable to diffuse a confrontational Rodriquez who tried to grab his gun and he feared for his life.

Who is telling the truth?  Richard Chrisman took the witness stand yesterday and tearfully recounted the events on October 5, 2010. He told the jury that after getting permission to enter the trailer from Rodriquez’s mother, he was confronted by an angry and aggressive Daniel Rodriquez, who was yelling profanities at the officers – and his pit bull “Junior” was acting aggressively.  When Rodriquez refused to come outside with Chrisman, the two “tussled”.  Chrisman and his partner tried to gain control over the situation by using pepper spray and then deploying a Taser, hitting Rodriquez in the chest. 

Rodriquez removed the Taser probes from his chest.  His dog was continuing to bark, as dogs tend to do when they witness confrontations and yelling – Chrisman shot the dog twice. Rodriquez appeared to try to deflect the bullets from hitting his dog, and he became even more enraged. “His anger elevates, he reaches out and tries to grab my gun”.  Chrisman claims Rodriquez then picked up a bicycle from the living room floor, “he was going to smash my brains in” – the former officer claimed.  “I fired two rounds, center mass”.  Prosecutors believe Rodriquez did not intend to use the bicycle as a weapon, he was simply trying to get away.

Defense attorney Patrick Gunn asked Chrisman if the actions he took to diffuse the situation before shooting Rodriquez complied with the training he received as an officer.  “Yes”, Chrisman said.  During cross examination, prosecutor Juan Martinez accused Chrisman of not following police protocol, manipulating the scene and lying about the events of October 5, 2010.  The state alleges that Chrisman put the muzzle of his gun to Rodriquez’s temple, telling him that he didn’t need a warrant to be inside of the trailer, a claim that Chrisman flatly disputes.  Officer Virgillo told officials that he never saw any weapon(s) in the hands of Daniel Rodriquez, and there was no threat requiring deadly force during that call.   Virgillo has also testified that the victim’s dog was not attacking either officer.  Chrisman has argued that the dog was aggressive and he considered him a threat to his safety. 

Richard Chrisman was fired from the Phoenix police department five months after the shooting.  He was a 9 year veteran of the police force.  The trial continues Wednesday when Chrismas is expected to return to the witness stand to square off against prosecutor Juan Martinez.  I’m not sure if this trial is being covered online – I haven’t checked “Wild About Trials” site yet, but if anybody knows where it can be viewed, could you please leave a comment?  I’d love to see Juan Martinez back in action. 

Isn’t it amazing how Juan Martinez is able to multi-task, handling numerous complex cases that have overlapped.  Interestingly enough, in reading about the Chrisman case and the numerous delays and continuances granted in getting this case to trial – I noticed the trial judge is none other than Judge Sherry Stephens.  She granted a total of 6 continuances since Chrisman was arraigned on October 21, 2010.  Apparently this is just part of the process?  It seems reasonable that from time to time, continuances will need to be granted in circumstances where witnesses are  not available or one side has a legitimate need for more time – but SIX continuances seems excessive.  I’d be interested to know what the average number of continuances for a murder trial is, and how Judge Stephens ranks in those statistics. 

The people of Maricopa County seemed disgruntled over the time it took to bring this former officer to trial – and the fact that he remained free after posting $150,000 bond.  He even reportedly got married while free and awaiting trial.  I know, he’s innocent until proven guilty. He was a police officer.  In their line of work, shootings happen.  Thank God there are people out there who are brave enough to be police officers who knowingly put themselves in dangerous situations to ensure the safety of others.  I have the utmost respect for police officers.  But not all officers are heroes, there will always be a few bad apples who abuse their power and use their knowledge of law enforcement to get away with criminal activity, including murder.  I can think of 4 police officers who were convicted of murdering their wives off the top of my head.  Is Chrisman a good cop who made a bad decision, or over reacted to what he perceived to be grave danger?  Or is he a cop who abused his authority and shot and killed an unarmed man and his dog?  He’d better have a damned good attorney because he’s going up against a very thorough and relentless prosecutor!  

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