The defense has started putting on its case on Thursday, Sept. 29, in the trial of two Albuquerque police officers facing murder charges for shooting and killing James Boyd. There were protests in Albuquerque after the shooting, and many people objected to police treatment of the homeless man, who had a mental illness.
But, the defense is working to recast the events that led to Boyd’s death, telling a story of a dangerous person who was threatening the safety of people nearby.
Public Health New Mexico’s Marisa Demarco spoke with KUNM’s Chris Boros about the latest trial developments.
KUNM: First of all, we heard Wednesday that some of the charges against the officers have actually been dropped. Tell us about that. What happened? What does that mean?
DEMARCO: After the prosecution rested its case, the defense argued for all the charges to be dropped. They argued that the voluntary man slaughter charges should be dropped because it wasn’t shown in court that the officers were enraged or out of control when the shooting happened. Voluntary manslaughter has this “heat of passion” component to it, and that wasn’t shown in court, the defense said.
So the judge dismissed the manslaughter charges for both defendants.
Now that means Dominique Perez can be found guilty of second-degree murder or nothing. And Keith Sandy can be found guilty of second-degree murder, aggravated battery or nothing at all.
KUNM: And the defense also filed a motion about the way the prosecution is handling things, what is going on there? What do they say there?
DEMARCO: Yeah, the defense is calling out the prosecution for stuff like: asking leaning questions, coaching a witness, putting a big picture of James Boyd on the podium that was facing the jury, and in the opening the statement misrepresenting what the evidence was going to show. And the defense is saying the penalty should be that the judge admonishes the prosecution in front the jury.
It is worth mentioning that this kind of motion is not so unusual. If you Google it, prosecutorial misconduct motions get filed in cases, especially murder cases, all over the country.
KUNM: And the defense’s first witness Thursday was the neighbor who actually called the police on Boyd. What happened there? Why did he do it? What was it like for him to watch the situation unfold?
DEMARCO: So that’s Alexander Thickstun. He described his backyard as opening out to onto the Open Space area of the Foothills where Boyd was camping in what Thickstun called a “nest of rocks.” He moved to Albuquerque just a couple months before all this went down. He said he heard Boyd shouting at someone one night. And he’d been observing Boyd for a while, he said. Before he called police that day, he went out to Open Space while Boyd was gone, and took photos of Boyd’s belongings. And he testified that he brought his dogs and a pistol with him. He said he was looking for drugs, stolen property or weapons. But he didn’t see any. He called police while Boyd was away from his camp. And then Boyd got back before they arrived.
Thickstun watched the whole standoff unfold from this balcony and took footage of it. He was really emotional on the stand. He wiped tears away when he was talking about his worst fears about James Boyd being realized when Boyd was threatening the officers.
KUNM: Several APD officers took the stand in the last couple of days, but for the prosecution. What does their testimony reveal about what happened that day?
DEMARCO: Yeah, they took the stand for the prosecution’s case and also the defense’s case. We heard today from Sgt. Jason Carpenter who was on the stand. He was the first person at the scene who was calling the shots.
He brought in some police officers, and they were negotiating with Boyd. He testified that he didn’t feel like he could just pack up and leave Boyd there, because he though other people in the area weren’t safe with how Boyd was acting. And he thought Boyd needed a mental health evaluation at least.
So Carpenter said he was trying resolve the situation on his own before calling SWAT. But then SWAT showed up and he turned over control. He said he let his crisis intervention officer—who we heard about earlier this week—stay up on the hill with some of the tactical officers who came. But then, Carpenter told that crisis officer to come down and patrol the perimeter.
And we heard from other law enforcement officers there that day, too. The defense is playing clips from their belt tapes or helmet cameras of Boyd yelling threats and promising to kill the officers, that kind of thing.
Public Health New Mexico is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.