Updated at: 12/11/2013 1:35 PM
By BRIAN SKOLOFF
(AP) PHOENIX - A former Phoenix police officer pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday in a deal that spares him another trial on second-degree murder and animal cruelty charges, ending a 3-year-old case that boiled down to dueling accounts of a shooting death by the only two witnesses _ the defendant and his partner.
Richard Chrisman was convicted of aggravated assault in September, but the jury failed to reach verdicts on the other two counts. A retrial had been set for January.
Under the deal to plead guilty to the lesser offense of manslaughter, Chrisman faces a sentence of seven to 14 years in prison. The animal cruelty charge was dropped.
Sentencing for the assault conviction and the manslaughter charge is set for Dec. 20. He faces anywhere from five to 15 years in prison for the assault, but both sentences will run concurrently. He likely is looking at about 10 years in prison, roughly the same amount of time he served with the Phoenix Police Department.
Chrisman was charged after he shot and killed Danny Rodriguez, 28, and the man’s pit bull during an October 2010 domestic violence call.
He remains in custody and spoke only briefly during the short hearing Wednesday. Chrisman answered, "Yes," when asked if he agreed with prosecutors that he recklessly caused Rodriguez’s death.
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 Chrisman to shoot the animal twice.
Amid tears, Chrisman explained how pepper spray and his stun gun failed to subdue the suspect as the two then 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.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez said Chrisman was reckless and had no reason to shoot Rodriguez.
"A person cannot take out a gun, point it at someone and then when that person steps back, shoot them," Martinez told the jury during the trial.
Defense attorney Craig Mehrens urged jurors not to swallow the "tale" that Martinez was trying to tell. He said if Martinez were to be believed, a nine-year veteran of the force who had never fired his gun would have had to decide "today’s the day" and chose Rodriguez as his victim.
The case came down to two versions of events _ one provided by Chrisman and an opposite story from his partner, Officer Sergio Virgillo, who also responded to the scene.
Chrisman said he learned before arriving that Rodriguez had a criminal history of drug use and weapons offenses, which elevated his awareness of what he sensed could become a dangerous encounter.
Chrisman said he and Virgillo received permission from the suspect’s mother to enter their trailer and speak with Rodriguez. He said the man refused to let them in at first, but Chrisman eventually entered and got into an altercation with him, leading to the shooting he described as self-defense.
Virgillo told jurors Chrisman was on a tear the moment he got to Rodriguez’s door, then pulled out his gun and pressed it to the suspect’s head. Chrisman denied the allegations. Virgillo also said the suspect was backing away and was no longer a threat when Chrisman fatally shot him in the chest.
Chrisman accused Virgillo of not being there to help with the struggling suspect inside the trailer, and at one point, even taking a personal call on his cellphone during the incident.
Chrisman was fired about five months after the shooting.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)