Opening arguments given at ex-officer's trial

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Jurors at the trial of a former Phoenix police officer charged with murder and animal cruelty in the on-duty killing of a man and his pit bull were given conflicting accounts Wednesday on how a domestic dispute call at a trailer escalated into violence.

Prosecutors making opening statements at Richard Chrisman's trial Wednesday said the former officer abused his police powers by fatally shooting 29-year-old Daniel Rodriguez in October 2010 even though the unarmed man posed no threat to officers. Authorities say he also deployed his stun gun on the victim, killed his dog and placed the barrel of his weapon on Rodriguez's temple at various points during the encounter.

"He decided to step over the line that day," said prosecutor Juan Martinez.

Chrisman's lead attorney, Craig Mehrens, told jurors that his client acted properly in trying to handle Rodriguez's refusal to leave his trailer that he shared with his mother and that Rodriguez had methamphetamine in his system and wasn't following orders to settle down, so Chrisman kept upping his levels of force. "Nothing is working on this guy," Mehrens said.

Chrisman, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault and animal cruelty charges, maintains the shooting was justified because Rodriguez had reached for the officer's gun during a tussle that preceded the shooting. He plans to testify at his trial.

Chrisman, a nine-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, was fired about five months after the death.

Rodriguez's mother had called police to complain that her son was acting violently, had thrown something at her and knocked a hole in the wall of their trailer.

After Rodriguez didn't answer the officers' knock on his door and officers say they got permission from Rodriguez's mother to enter the trailer, Chrisman went inside.

Authorities say when Rodriguez questioned the right of the two officers to be inside the trailer, Chrisman put the muzzle of his pistol on Rodriguez's temple and said he didn't need a warrant to be there. Chrisman denies putting his gun to Rodriguez's temple.

Investigators say Chrisman put his gun back in its holster and tried to grab Rodriguez, leading to a struggle in which both officers tried unsuccessfully to restrain Rodriguez and used their stun guns on Rodriguez.

Authorities also say Chrisman shot pepper spray into Rodriguez's eyes and drew his pistol a second time and shot Rodriguez's barking dog. Chrisman's partner told investigators that the dog wasn't attacking either officer.

Another scuffle between Chrisman and Rodriguez began when Rodriguez said he wanted to leave on his bicycle. At some point, Chrisman drew his pistol again and shot Rodriguez in the chest from about two to three feet away. Rodriguez fell to the ground and was later pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.