Richard Chrisman verdict: Jury finds aggravating factor in ex-officer's case

PHOENIX - Jurors in the trial of an ex-Phoenix police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed suspect and his dog have found an aggravating factor in the case.

Around 3:15 p.m., the jurors said they found an aggravating factor of emotional loss in the case of Richard Chrisman.

ABC15 crews in the courtroom said Chrisman broke down as he left the courtroom.

He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a minimum of five years. The next court date is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Earlier Tuesday, the jury failed to reach verdicts on two of the three counts against Richard Chrisman late Monday: animal cruelty and second-degree murder.

Chrisman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty. He maintains the October 2010 shootings of Daniel Rodriguez, 29, and his pit bull were in self-defense.

The former officer testified how pepper spray and his stun gun failed to stop the suspect's aggressive behavior as the two then 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 during his trial.

Rodriguez died at the scene.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez told jurors Chrisman arrived at Rodriguez's home as the aggressor, barged in and pressed a gun to his head before the fatal shooting.

Martinez said the evidence doesn't show Rodriguez was assaulting the officer. He said Chrisman shot Rodriguez's "friendly" dog after the animal wagged his tail at him, and that the officer failed to even try to talk to Rodriguez.

"A person cannot take out a gun, point it at someone and then when that person steps back, shoot them," Martinez told jurors in closing arguments.

Defense attorney Craig Mehrens urged jurors not to believe Martinez's "tale."

He said it's hard to believe that a nine-year veteran of the force who had never fired his gun would have decided "today's the day" to kill someone and chose Rodriguez as his victim.

Chrisman testified that he and another officer arrived at the scene and made contact with the woman who had called authorities to report that her son, Rodriguez, had become violent. Chrisman said she was frightened and excited.

"She was crying, shaking," Chrisman testified. "She told us that her son, Danny, goes out, he leaves the house for several days at a time. When he comes home, he gets real violent and angry and starts destroying stuff and hurts her."

Authorities say Chrisman used unnecessary excessive force after Rodriguez questioned the right of the two officers to be inside his trailer.

The other officer on the scene with Chrisman told investigators the dog wasn't attacking either of them, and that the man wasn't a threat when Chrisman shot him. Chrisman says the officer wasn't doing his job, and was outside the trailer when the shooting occurred.

Elvira Fernandez, Rodriguez's mother said, "Tuesday's verdict will not bring back my son but it could restore the faith that some may have lost in our criminal justice system. Nobody is above the law."

Chrisman was fired from the department about five months after the shooting. Opening statements in his trial began in early August.

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) said:

"In a perfect world, we would not need batons, Tasers, pepper spray, handguns, shotguns or rifles. The world we operate in is anything but perfect ... Ours is a world in which we are required to make split second decisions while operating under a complex of rules ...

This particular case is uniquely difficult. Not only was a police officer criminally charged for doing his job, it also pitted the word of one officer against another."

You can read the full statement here.

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