Ex-Phoenix officer pleads guilty to manslaughter

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by Brian Skoloff, Associated Press

Video report by Jaime Cerreta

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 13 at 3:53 PM

PHOENIX (AP) -- A former Phoenix police officer pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday in a deal that spares him another trial on charges of second-degree murder and animal cruelty.

Richard Chrisman was convicted of aggravated assault in September, but the jury failed to reach verdicts on the other two counts. A retrial had been set for January.

Under the deal with prosecutors, Chrisman faces a sentence of seven to 14 years in prison. The animal cruelty charge was dropped.

Sentencing for the assault conviction and the manslaughter charge is set for Dec. 20. He faces anywhere from five to 15 years in prison for the assault, but both sentences will run concurrently.

Chrisman remains in custody and spoke only briefly during the short hearing Wednesday. He answered, "Yes," when asked if he agreed with prosecutors that he recklessly caused Danny Rodriguez's death.

Chrisman was charged after he shot and killed Rodriguez, 28, and the man's pit bull during an October 2010 domestic violence call.

The case came down to two versions of events, one provided by Chrisman and an opposite story from his partner, Officer Sergio Virgillo, who also responded to the scene.

Chrisman said he learned before arriving that Rodriguez had a criminal history of drug use and weapons offenses, which elevated his awareness of what he sensed could become a dangerous encounter.

Chrisman said he and Virgillo received permission from the suspect's mother to enter their trailer and speak with Rodriguez. He said the man refused to let them in at first, but Chrisman eventually entered and got into an altercation with him after he refused to come outside to speak with officers.

Chrisman also testified the man's pit bull, Junior, became aggressive, at one point lunging toward him, forcing him to shoot the dog twice.

Virgillo told jurors Chrisman was on a tear the moment he got to Rodriguez's door, then pulled out his gun and pressed it to the suspect's head. Chrisman denied the allegations. Virgillo also said the suspect was backing away and was no longer a threat when Chrisman fatally shot him in the chest.

Chrisman, a nine-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, accused Virgillo of not being there to help with the struggling suspect inside the trailer, and at one point, even taking a personal call on his cellphone during the incident. He said he fired his weapon only after Rodriguez attacked him and pepper spray and stun guns failed to subdue him.

Chrisman was fired about five months after the shooting.

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