Chrisman files motion on aggravating factors ruling - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH


Chrisman files motion on aggravating factors ruling

Former Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman. (Source: CBS 5 News) Former Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman. (Source: CBS 5 News)

The jury in the murder trial of a former Phoenix police officer found there were aggravating factors, meaning he could face between five and 15 years in prison.

The aggravation phase began after jurors found Richard Chrisman guilty only of aggravated assault but was hung on two other counts.

The jury found that there were aggravating factors.

On Thursday, Maricopa County court filed an objection to a motion by Chrisman to vacate the aggravating factor.

The defense argued "there is not one shred of credible evidence to support the finding that the victim's family suffered emotional harm for the crime for which Mr. Chrisman was convicted," according to the court paperwork.

The court ruled the motion to vacate the "judgement" of the emotional harm aggravating factor should be denied.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on the second-degree murder charge and animal cruelty in the October 2010 shooting deaths of 29-year-old Daniel Rodriguez and his pit bull.

The unanimous guilty verdict was read by the court clerk Tuesday morning at Maricopa County Superior Court.

[Click here to read reaction from the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PDF)]

CBS 5 News on Monday confirmed the split verdict.

Chrisman will be back in court on Oct. 18 at 8:30 a.m. for a status hearing on sentencing. In the meantime, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said for his own personal safety, Chrisman will be housed in administrative segregation in the lower Buckeye Jail. 

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued the following statement following Tuesday's verdict:

"First, I want to thank the members of the jury for their time and effort. Nevertheless, with the jury unable to reach a verdict on the counts charging Second Degree Murder and Animal Cruelty, we will assess the case and determine the most appropriate course of action. One possible course of action is to retry the remaining counts, which is permitted under our state and federal constitutions.

"As for the guilty verdict on the Aggravated Assault count, it is important to note that, but for the personal courage and honorable conduct of Phoenix Police Officer Sergio Vergillo, Richard Chrisman would not have been held accountable for even this unlawful act. Officer Vergillo displayed the type of character we expect of those who take an oath to protect and defend our laws and to carry out their duties faithfully and impartially.

"In situations where one police officer is called upon to hold a fellow officer accountable for wrongdoing, it is those who are truly loyal to the call of service who step up and are worthy of our trust and confidence.

"Today's verdict, while incomplete, is proof that no one is above the law and that all who violate the public's trust will be held accountable."

Chrisman pleaded not guilty and maintained the shootings of Rodriguez and his pit bull were justified because Rodriguez threatened the officer by reaching for his gun and grabbing a bike that the officer testified he believed Rodriguez was going to use to "smash" in his brains.  

This trial pitted officer against officer and expert witness against expert witness. The other officer on the scene when the shooting occurred was Sergio Virgillo. He told investigators neither the dog nor Rodriguez posed a threat and Chrisman shot both of them for no reason.  

Prosecutor Juan Martinez painted Chrisman as a rogue, irresponsible cop with an attitude problem, who, on the day of the shooting, had an agenda when it came to Rodriguez.  

"Given his attitude toward this person ... he's just out to get this guy. It was just like a game, for no reason. That's what he was doing. Why don't you just try talking to the guy, instead of putting a gun to his head?" Martinez told the jury of eight men and six women. 

Martinez told jurors that the responsible, reasonable officer on the scene was Virgillo. The prosecutor talked about the bravery it took for Virgillo to take on the "whole police department" and cross the thin blue line to stand up for what was right.  

Martinez attacked Chrisman's credibility on the stand and poked fun at him for "almost crying" as he went on the stand with tissue in hand. During Chrisman's testimony, he cried both when questioned by his own attorney and Martinez.

During closing arguments, Martinez drove home the point that Chrisman was the aggressor and that he was not justified to shoot the dog or Rodriguez according to self-defense laws.

As he reviewed the testimony of the state's experts, Martinez told jurors that the idea that Chrisman shot in self-defense is a made-up story. Chrisman told jurors that Rodriguez grabbed his bike and lifted it up, as if to use it as a weapon. Chrisman told jurors he believed Rodriguez was going to "smash" his brains in. Martinez said that was just a made-up story to cover the murder.  

"It's impossible for the bicycle to have been used in that fashion that he described. The forensic evidence says it wasn't. The medical evidence says it wasn't, and it just makes no sense that this individual could raise it so high and hold it up like this. Why not just push it that way?" asked Martinez.  

At one point, Martinez crafted a story of evidence tampering as it related to the officers from Chrisman's squad, who showed up to guard the scene after the shooting. Martinez suggested they moved evidence to cover up for their friend and fellow officer.  

Defense lawyer Craig Mehrens told jurors Chrisman's partner had fled the trailer home in fear and didn't see what prompted the shooting.

Stay with and CBS 5 News for updates on the trial.

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