ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – In a rare move, a judge Thursday ruled the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office be removed from a controversial murder case against two Albuquerque Police officers.
The killing of homeless camper James Boyd in the foothills has drawn national attention, and public perception is at the root of this decision.
A judge ruled District Attorney Kari Brandenburg’s office be removed from the case. Judge Alisa Hadfield ordered Brandenburg to appoint a special prosecutor to bring the case before the court.
This comes months after DA Kari Brandenburg decided to move forward with murder charges for officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy for last year’s high profile shooting. Both officers fired the shots that killed homeless camper James Boyd in the Albuquerque Foothills in 2014.
The decision doesn’t toss out the murder charges against Officer Dominique Perez and now retired Officer Keith Sandy. Still, Perez’s attorney told KRQE News 13 his client is overjoyed that Brandenburg may not be prosecuting it.
Attorneys for those cops wanted Brandenburg to give the case to another prosecutor, citing a conflict of interest. The decision to ban Brandenburg and her office, hinges on a case that Albuquerque police forwarded to the attorney general, accusing the district attorney of attempting to bribe victims of burglaries allegedly committed by her son.
Brandenburg denied the accusations, saying her office can fairly handle the case.
The judge said media coverage of that case could create the public perception that Brandenburg had a conflict of interest in filing murder charges against Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez.
“There was a strong appearance that she was prosecuting this for other reasons other than a crime has been committed,” Sam Bregman, Attorney for Keith Sandy, told News 13.
While the court stated it does not believe an actual conflict exists, the judge said the “media’s connection of the two unrelated investigations” along with the “District Attorney’s public comments regarding the two investigations, create an appearance of a conflict…”
“If people believe that someone is being prosecuted because of other interests, other motivations, that doesn’t work, and that puts a stain on the justice system, and I think the court saw this,” Bregman said.
Sandy and Perez’s attorneys still claim their clients did nothing wrong and were protecting one of their own.
Brandenburg issued the following statement in regard to the ruling:
“There are many important public interests at stake in regard to this case. We are carefully evaluating what is in the best interest of the public on how to move forward, and we anticipate that we will be able to address your questions next week. Everyone deserves more than a hasty response in regard to such an important ruling.”
The decision doesn’t affect the murder charges at this point. “I’m looking forward to a prosecutor with an even keel looking at all this and saying is there really a crime?” Bregman added.
Whether Brandenburg will appeal or not will likely be announced next week.
There is a status hearing for the case against them set for May.
Perez’s Attorney Responds
Officer Dominique Perez’s lawyer, Luis Robles, described Judge Hadfield’s order as “remarkably thorough.”
“In legal speak, it is a bulletproof order,” Robles said in a telephone interview. “Dominique Perez is more than just pleased; he is overjoyed.”
He said he has been taken throughout his representation of Perez by the “power of the media.” Hadfield’s order, which focused largely on how news coverage of the case has built in the minds of the public a notion of a conflict between Brandenburg’s office and APD, hit the mark, he said.
“There was a certain string of this case that I happened to be able to use to my advantage,” Robles said, referring to numerous local and national news stories that linked Brandenburg’s decision to pursue murder charges against Sandy and Perez with APD’s investigation of Brandenburg for allegedly bribing the victims of her son’s burglaries. “The connection didn’t seem to make sense to me at first, the connection … But I was truly surprised at the media’s ability to shape public opinion.”
Hadfield’s dismissal of large portions of Robles’ argument – that Chief Deputy DA Deborah DePalo would be a witness in the case and that Brandenburg had specific animus toward the officers who shot Boyd – left the longtime defense attorney unfazed.
“You win by a point or you win by 10,” he said. “The objective of the motion was achieved. So, this was not a half measure. It was a full measure.”
Robles said he planned to wait a month for Brandenburg to appoint a special prosecutor in the case or file an appeal, then file a motion to dismiss the murder charges if she hasn’t done one or the other.
“I will force her hand at that point,” he said. “She will have to fish or cut bait.”