ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The trial for two former Albuquerque police officers charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of a homeless man should be moved to another city because of the high volume of media attention the case has received, defense attorneys said Friday in court documents.
Attorneys for Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez want the trial, set for August 2016, to be moved from Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque, to Las Cruces in Dona Ana County, according to the court filing. Las Cruces is about 200 miles south of Albuquerque.
Sandy and Perez shot James Boyd after an hourslong standoff in March 2014. In police video footage, the 38-year-old homeless man has two knives in hand but appears to be turning away from officers when gunfire erupts and he is shot.
The footage released amid a U.S. Justice Department investigation into a pattern of excessive force within the Albuquerque Police Department sparked extensive local protests, including one in which demonstrators shut down City Hall during a council meeting.
"Not only will nearly every single potential juror know about the case, but also, each one will already have a fixed opinion — whether it is pro- or anti-Albuquerque police," the motion states. "The community is divided."
Both Sandy and Perez have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and assault charges in the shooting death of Boyd, who authorities say suffered from mental illness. Boyd had been camping illegally in the foothills on the east side of New Mexico's largest city.
The incident preceded a broader national debate about police shootings and officers' use of force.
"The amount of media scrutiny and publicity that this case has received in this media market is almost unprecedented," said Luis Robles, Perez's attorney. "By moving to change venue, Officer Perez is not seeking an unfair advantage; he's only seeking a fair trial."
The motion cites more than 250 media reports among several outlets in the Albuquerque area compared with a handful in Las Cruces.
Defense attorneys argue the news coverage has "harshly criticized" Perez and Sandy, with headlines that read "Charges keep police accountable ..." and "No wonder Albuquerque Police Dept. has difficulty in finding recruits."
In August, a judge ruled there was probable cause for the officers' case to go to trial after a two-week preliminary hearing in which Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn argued Boyd couldn't have posed a threat to officers when he was killed because he was shot in the side and back.
Defense attorneys contend Boyd presented a danger and had threatened officers, leaving them no choice but to shoot as their training had taught them.
Since the shooting, Sandy was allowed to retire from the force and Perez was released in October under a policy indicating the department may take disciplinary action upon indictment of an officer or a formal criminal charge.
They remain free on their own recognizance as they await trial.