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Prosecutors initially sought to charge two Albuquerque cops who shot and killed a homeless man camping in the New Mexico wilderness in March 2014 with first-degree murder, but the officers are now expected to face lesser charges.
The killing of James Boyd, a schizophrenic 38-year-old, by police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez after an hours-long standoff was captured in a graphic video recorded by a camera on one of the officers' helmets. The footage went viral, prompting outrage and turmoil across New Mexico that culminated with clashes between protesters and riot police with tear gas.
Special prosecutor Randi McGinn, a hardnosed Albuquerque medical malpractice and wrongful death lawyer who claims she once made a witness throw-up on the stand under intense cross-examination, announced yesterday her plan to pursue several charges against Sandy and Perez, including second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and aggravated battery.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg filed first-degree murder charges against Sandy and Perez in January, but was disqualified in April after a judge ruled there was a conflict of interest.
"The penalty is dramatically reduced in the murder in the second degree charge," Barry Porter, a defense and civil rights attorney not involved with the case, told local Albuquerque TV station KOAT. "Murder in the second degree carries a 15 year penalty. And the judge actually has the discretion to suspend that sentence, so that the person doesn't have to do prison."
Asked by VICE News if she is confident about winning the case considering the video evidence, McGinn scoffed. "Confident? Video evidence or no video evidence, I don't think confident is the right word, given the history of police officers being charged for their actions," she said.
McGinn said most prosecutors in the area were unwilling to step forward and take the case. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Sandy and Perez are the first officers in the city to face charges as a result of an on-duty fatal shooting in at least 50 years. Over the last five years, Albuquerque police have shot 38 people, 19 of them fatally. More than half of the shooting victims were mentally ill, according to the New Yorker.
"These are tough cases and we'll have to see what happens" McGinn said. "I believe there's enough probable cause to go forward and I hope that justice is done."
Beyond the video, the evidence McGinn plans to use in the case includes a statement from a ballistics expert explaining where each bullet landed through scene reconstruction. McGinn said a total of six bullets were fired, three from each officer.
Sandy and Perez responded to a report that that a mentally ill homeless man was illegally camping out in the wilderness. Boyd was reportedly brandishing two pocketknives when the officers arrived on the scene. The video shows Boyd standing uphill from the officers surrounded by scrubby New Mexico terrain. One of the officers says "Do it," before opening fire. Then, with Boyd already lying on the ground, the officers fire a few more rounds into his body.
Sandy's attorney Sam Bregman and the Albuquerque Police Department did not respond to VICE News' requests for comment.
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