ALBUQUERQUE – Attorneys for two former Albuquerque police officers charged in the on-duty shooting death of a homeless man in 2014 argue that unprecedented media attention stands to compromise their clients’ right to a fair trial.
Defense attorneys for now-retired detective Keith Sandy and ex-police officer Dominique Perez made their case for a change of venue Tuesday in state district court, but Judge Alisa Hadfield put off an immediate decision.
Hadfield said she’ll take the arguments under consideration before issuing a ruling.
The trial for Perez and Sandy is scheduled for August.
The defense attorneys told Hadfield the case has been politically charged, and it would be difficult to seat a jury that hasn’t heard about the shooting of James Boyd and the resulting protests.
Sam Bregman, who is representing Sandy, said every second of the former officers’ preliminary hearing was streamed live online and the immense coverage has resulted in negative opinions of the defendants being posted via social media.
Bregman also dismissed prosecutors’ claims that moving the trial from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, some 200 miles away, would inconvenience witnesses and court staff.
“This is about making sure that two police officers who served this community and served this country ... get an absolute fair trial. That’s what this is about today,” he said. “And to say that it’s inconvenient quite frankly misses the mark, and it’s not what our justice system is about.”
Randi McGinn, special prosecutor appointed to the case by the district attorney, said the case should remain in the city where Boyd was shot during a standoff with the officers.
“This community should decide what is acceptable behavior and what is not,” she told the judge.
McGinn argued that the solution to ensuring a fair trial is having a thorough jury selection process. She pointed to other high-profile cases including the Boston bombings and the prosecution of a former Enron executive in Houston.
McGinn said there has been no polling in the Albuquerque area that would show people have fixed opinions about Perez and Sandy. She suggested between 400 and 500 questionnaires be sent to an expanded jury pool several weeks before trial.
If the trial were to be moved, she asked the judge to consider Santa Fe.
The March 2014 shooting in the Sandia Mountain foothills where authorities say Boyd had been camping illegally sparked massive protests in Albuquerque and came as the U.S. Justice Department concluded a lengthy investigation into allegations of excessive force among Albuquerque police, who had been scrutinized for more than 40 police shootings since 2010.