ALBUQUERQUE (AP/KRQE) – 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.
“With the utmost respect your honor, I’d say the most important job of this court is to ensure a fair trial for these two police officers,” Sam Bregman, attorney for Keith Sandy, said before Judge Alisa Hadfield Tuesday morning.
Defense attorneys for now-retired detective Keith Sandy and ex-police officer Dominique Perez made their case for a change of venue before Hadfield, who didn’t make an immediate decision.
“Can an impartial jury be found in this county?” Bregman asked.
Hadfield said she’ll take the arguments under consideration.
“I will review the articles that were provided by counsel before issuing any decision. And I am required to make finding, so I will be issuing a written statement,” Hadfield said.
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.
Bregman 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.
“No case in the histroy of New Mexico has received the type of attention from the media, from city leaders and from the community, that this case has received,” Bregman said.
Bregman wants the trial moved to Las Cruces, because Las Cruces and most of Dona Ana County are served by the El Paso media market, not the Albuquerque or Santa Fe media market.
That means most homes in the Las Cruces area do not get the same TV news as the rest of the state of New Mexico.
Bregman also dismissed prosecutors’ claims that moving the trial from 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, the 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.
But Bregman came back and said Santa Fe doesn’t make sense because Santa Fe is still served by the same media outlets, both TV and paper, that serve Albuquerque.
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.