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Ex-Phoenix Police Officer Convicted of Assault

PHOENIX (AP) — A jury failed to reach a verdict on murder but convicted a former Phoenix police officer of aggravated assault following the shooting deaths of an unarmed man and his dog during a domestic dispute call three years ago.

Jurors hearing the case against Richard Chrisman deliberated for about four days before announcing their verdict Tuesday. They were hung on second-degree murder and animal cruelty.

Chrisman was charged after his partner said he fatally shot 29-year-old Danny Rodriguez and his dog without justification during an October 2010 confrontation at a south Phoenix mobile home. Chrisman, a nine-year veteran of the force, was later fired.

He faced aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly putting a gun to Rodriguez's head. That charge carries a five- to 15-year sentence.

In court Tuesday, Chrisman wore a dark suit and showed no reaction as the verdict was read. At one point, he reached back and squeezed the hand of his wife, who was seated behind him. Other Chrisman supporters at the hearing included several off-duty police officers. Family members of the victim, including Rodriguez's mother, sat in the front row on the other side.

The case, to a large degree, boiled down to conflicting accounts from Chrisman and his partner, Officer Sergio Virgillo — the only two people, besides Rodriguez, inside the trailer to witness the escalating confrontation.

Chrisman, 39, testified that he acted in self-defense. Defense attorneys said Rodriguez was high on methamphetamine and tried to attack Chrisman with a bicycle.

Both officers tried to subdue Rodriguez with their stun guns, and Chrisman used pepper spray.

Rodriguez's mother had called police to the home, saying her son was violent.

Chrisman's lawyer Craig Mehrens told jurors at the end of the five-week trial that the defendant's partner made up a story that led to the charges and there's just no reason a veteran officer who had never fired his gun in the line of duty would snap one day and kill a suspect for no reason.

Mehrens said Virgillo's testimony was designed to protect him from allegations that he left his partner alone in a dangerous situation because he was scared.

"I think there's good reason to believe that what you heard from officer Virgillo is not what happened," Mehrens told jurors.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez said the defense was trying to work around the facts to clear Chrisman.

"It is a nonsensical story that they have brought forth for you to consider," Martinez said.

Chrisman acknowledged under questioning last week that he was the aggressor in the early part of the confrontation but said he was just doing his job.

Chrisman and Virgillo were called to the trailer park by Rodriguez's mother, who told them her son was violent and had punched a hole in a wall. They confronted Rodriguez at the door, and Chrisman forced his way inside. Rodriguez asked to see a warrant and prosecutors say Chrisman then put his pistol against Rodriguez's head and told him he didn't need one.

Mehrens says that didn't happen, but Martinez told jurors that DNA on the officer's pistol and a bruise on the dead man's left temple show it happened the way Virgillo testified. The two officers then had difficulty controlling Rodriguez, and both fired their stun guns with little effect. Chrisman used pepper spray on Rodriguez, then shot his dog, who prosecutors say was not threatening the officers.

Virgillo said Rodriguez then got his bicycle and tried to leave the tiny trailer home, but Chrisman wouldn't allow it, and a tussle began.

Chrisman's lawyer said Virgillo fled the trailer and couldn't see the events that followed.

Chrisman testified that Rodriguez lifted up the bike. He said he thought Rodriguez was going to use the bike to "smash my brains in," so Chrisman fired twice, hitting Rodriguez in the chest.

Martinez told jurors there was no sign the bicycle had been hit with gunshot residue, and that they should believe Virgillo's version — that he saw what happened and Rodriguez's hands were up when he was shot. Mehrens said no tests were done on the bike, and jurors can't speculate.

The trial's sentencing phase was to begin Tuesday afternoon with jurors hearing victim impact statements.

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