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Updated Dec 20, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Ex-officer Richard Chrisman sentenced in 2010 fatal shooting case

PHOENIX -- A former Phoenix police officer was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison on assault and manslaughter charges after the fatal 2010 shooting of man during a domestic violence call, concluding a 3-year-old case that boiled down to dueling accounts by the only witnesses -- the defendant and his partner.

Richard Chrisman was originally charged with aggravated assault, second-degree murder and animal cruelty.

He was convicted in September of assault, but jurors failed to reach verdicts on the other counts. He later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors that spared him a second trial.

Judge Warren Granville sentenced him Friday to seven years in prison for manslaughter and five years on the assault conviction with both sentences to run concurrently.

While noting that Chrisman was doing his job, the judge also said he went too far.

``Society entrusted you with the power and authority of a law enforcement officer,'' Granville told Chrisman. ``On this occasion, you failed to meet that responsibility.''

Chrisman was arrested after he shot and killed Danny Rodriguez, 28, and the man's pit bull when he and his partner responded to Rodriguez's home after a frantic call from his mother that her son was acting violent.

Chrisman maintained the shootings were self-defense but his partner told jurors the situation had been defused before Chrisman opened fire.

At his sentencing hearing, Rodriguez's mother tearfully pleaded with the judge to sentence Chrisman to the maximum of 15 years in prison.

``I feel so guilty,'' Elvira Fernandez told the judge. ``If I never picked up that telephone and made that call, Daniel would be alive today.''

Several police officers testified on Chrisman's behalf, calling him a good man who supported his colleagues and loved his job.

``I've never seen him lose his temper on or off the job,'' Phoenix officer Matt Morgan said.

Chrisman pleaded for leniency, calling the events of that day a tragedy.

``But I would ask that you understand that that tragedy reaches both sides,'' he said.

Outside court, Fernandez said she was disappointed with the sentence.

``It just didn't seem fair,'' she said, holding back tears.

Chrisman had the support throughout his case of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which found his conviction to be a travesty of justice.

``Rich is kind of an unfortunate victim of the justice system,'' said Ken Crane, the union's vice president. ``He was just trying to do his job.''

During his trial, Chrisman described a chaotic scene in which his partner shirked his duties as backup while Rodriguez's pit bull became aggressive. He said that at one point, the dog lunged at him leading him to shoot the animal twice.

Chrisman explained how pepper spray and his stun gun failed to subdue the suspect as the two struggled, and Rodriguez picked up a bicycle from the living room floor.

``He was going to smash my brains in ... I fired two rounds, center mass,'' Chrisman told jurors.

Prosecutors accused him of being reckless and escalating the situation unnecessarily. Defense attorneys noted that Chrisman had never fired his weapon once during 10 years on the force and was defending himself.

But Chrisman's partner, Sergio Virgillo, told jurors Chrisman was on a tear from the moment he approached Rodriguez's door, then pulled out his gun and pressed it to the suspect's head. Chrisman denied the allegations and accused Virgillo of not being there to help with the struggling suspect, who was high on methamphetamine, and at one point even taking a personal call on his cell phone during the incident.

Chrisman was fired about five months after the shooting. Virgillo remains employed with the Phoenix Police Department.

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