ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless man in the Sandia foothills last year received national attention and continues to grab headlines as two Albuquerque police officers who fired their rifles at the man now face murder charges.
But their attorneys say there’s an important question that hasn’t been answered – one that could be key as the case against the officers moves forward.
Whose bullet killed James Boyd?
A forensic review of the evidence completed after the shooting couldn’t answer the question, they said.
Retired Detective Keith Sandy and officer Dominique Perez are each charged with an open count of murder for the death of Boyd. Both officers fired their rifles multiple times.
But a “firearm and tool mark report” completed after the shooting was inconclusive as to where the shot that did the most damage came from.
“It makes you scratch your head. Which one was it,” Luis Robles, Perez’s attorney, said in an interview. “Do (prosecutors) expect a jury to flip a coin and assign responsibility?”
The autopsy report showed Boyd was shot three times. One bullet struck his left arm, another struck his right arm. The shot to the right arm did significant damage and doctors amputated it while trying to save Boyd’s life.
The shot that did the most damage to Boyd entered his left lower back and traveled upward. It damaged his large intestine, spleen, left lung and other organs before it exited his armpit and entered his left arm and headed to the shoulder.
The firearm report described that bullet as a “fired, mushroomed jacketed hollow point bullet.” Tests couldn’t prove whether the bullet came from Perez’s or Sandy’s rifle. Both weapons fired the same caliber ammunition, which was issued by the department.
Robles said there are cases where multiple defendants can be charged with one person’s murder.
An example is when a group is charged under a felony murder law that allows defendants to share blame if one of them kills a person while they are committing a violent felony, such as a robbery.
But, he said, that’s not the case here. Sandy and Perez are charged with no crimes other than killing Boyd. To convict, he said a jury will have to have evidence that shows each defendant’s actions “resulted in the death and without which the death would not have occurred.”
He said the autopsy report showed that only the bullet the ripped through Boyd’s back and body caused his death.
“The idea that they would charge two people with murder without knowing who fired the shot that killed Mr. Boyd is troubling to say the least,” said Sam Bregman, Sandy’s attorney.
Both attorneys said they have multiple other arguments and points to make in the case besides raising the question of who killed Boyd.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment for the article. They said it would involve discussing evidence in a pending criminal trial.
It’s not clear if the state has additional evidence, such as crime scene experts, to tie the deadly bullet to Perez or Sandy.
“But, all evidence will be presented at a preliminary hearing, which is open to the public,” Kayla Anderson, a spokeswoman for the office, said in an email.
Perez and Sandy were each charged with an open count of murder earlier this year. Currently, District Judge Alisa Hadfield is considering a motion from the defense to have Brandenburg’s office disqualified from prosecuting the case.
Brandenburg’s office has argued against that motion, saying the crime happened in Bernalillo County, where Brandenburg has been elected as the top prosecutor.