Two Albuquerque police officers were charged with second-degree murder for an on-the-job shooting for the first time in at least half a century. They were facing up to 15 years in prison for killing James Boyd, who’d been camping illegally for about a month in the Foothills of the Sandia Mountains in 2014. The jury announced that it was deadlocked Tuesday, Oct. 11.
After hearing nearly three weeks of testimony and arguments, the jury deliberated for about 16 hours. And on Tuesday they entered Judge Alisa Hadfield’s courtroom for the last time. "Juror No. 3, are you able to tell me what the split was with regard to second-degree murder with regard to Keith Sandy?" she asked. "Three guilty, nine not-guilty?"
It was the same split for former officer Dominique Perez. The jurors told Hadfield further deliberation wouldn’t make a difference. They'd needed a unanimous decision to either convict or acquit, and they didn’t have it. So it was a hung jury.
"Based on this information the court finds that there is no reasonable probability that the jury can agree and is going to conclude this proceeding by declaring a mistrial," Hadfield ruled.
Court adjourned and Keith Sandy’s defense lawyer Sam Bregman spoke to the press. "Obviously, he wanted to be able to have a complete win, if you will, 100 percent walk-out-of-here-not-guilty decision by the jury," Bregman said. "That didn’t happen. But nine-to-three is pretty darn close."
Bregman wouldn’t say how much he was paid to put on Sandy’s defense. The other defendant, Dominique Perez—his wife told the Associated Press they were more than a quarter-million dollars in debt due to legal fees.
Bregman said if it came down to it, though, he’d defend his client again for free. "They’re going to go on. They’re good people with wonderful families, and they’re going to pick themselves back up," he said. "I hope to God though that the government recognizes the weakness of this case and doesn’t cost the kind of taxpayer dollars it would be to re-prosecute this again."
The state paid Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn less than $6,000 to try the case. As a news chopper circled the courthouse, she explained why she took it on.
"This was to restore people’s confidence that the criminal justice system can review police shooting cases, and regardless of the outcome of the verdict, cops aren’t going to get a pass when they wrongfully shoot somebody here in Albuquerque anymore," she said.
McGinn said she was struck by the amount of people behind the officers in the courtroom showing support, and the empty benches on the other side of the room. "We’re all on the hook for James Boyd, aren’t we?" she said. "I just thought, if just one person had been on James Boyd’s side out there, he might not have been out there on the mountain with no home to go to."
Around 20 advocates gathered in front of the courthouse, including the Southwest Organizing Project’s Javier Benavidez. "It does not seem to matter if their trainings at tactics change, if they change their hiring practices, if they lose millions of dollars in lawsuits, or if they’re indicted for murder," he said. "They continue to kill citizens at a higher rate than anyone else with impunity."
Father Frank Quintana of Blessed Oscar Romero Catholic Community said a great city can be judged by how it cares for the weakest of its citizens. The jury’s decision, he said, shows how the people of Albuquerque have long been intimidated by police. "Excessive force is a means of preemptively suppressing the people," he said. "And I think that that showed itself in the hung jury."
Boyd, who had mental illness, made threats against police officers the day he was killed. Ricki Bloom has worked in the mental health care field for more than a dozen years and said the stigma about people with mental illness played a part in the the trial.
"There’s always the same story of, you know, we were fearful," she said. "And the fact is that you were fearful because of your own stuff and not because there’s any real threat." There wouldn’t be any question about a guilty verdict, she said, if it hadn’t been police officers on trial.
Boyd’s brother released a statement saying he hopes Boyd’s legacy is that Albuquerque police will never again take the life of anyone without just cause.
The mistrial means that the Bernalillo County district attorney would have to retry to case to get a verdict. Raul Torrez is the only candidate for that office in the 2016 election, and he released a statement saying he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll pursue a retrial.