Rick Romley Says Police Union's Under Investigation in the Chrisman Murder Case

Page 2 of 3

Virgillo, by all accounts, knew nothing of his wife's dealings. But as with the story regarding Nowakowski and Johnson, these twists effectively muddy the pool, no doubt part of PLEA's plan. If there's enough doubt in the mix when Montgomery ascends to the catbird seat, it could give him enough cover to act in Chrisman's favor.

Chrisman's attorney, Craig Mehrens — who wouldn't tell me whether PLEA's paying Chrisman's legal bills — contends that the grand jury was bogus from jump. He said the County Attorney's Office wouldn't allow his expert witness, police psychologist Dr. William Lewinski, to testify.

Mehrens said Lewinski interviewed Chrisman and has concluded that "this was a justifiable use of force," in the attorney's words.

"I wanted to make Dr. Lewinski available to the [county attorney] and the grand jury to tell them Rich Chrisman's version on the facts and, if they were interested, his expert opinion," Mehrens wrote in an e-mail to me.

Yet Mehrens admitted that he didn't offer his client to the grand jury to tell his side, which was the smart thing for Mehrens to do. Particularly if his client's guilty.

Romley scoffed at the suggestion that Lewinski should've gone before the grand jury.

"Mehrens knows better than that," Romley said. "His expert didn't even have any of the police reports or any of the information [on the case]."

And what about Mehrens' contention that he and Public Safety Manager (read: Police Chief) Jack Harris rushed to judgment regarding Chrisman — that the grand jury came too fast?

"That's ridiculous," Romley said. "How many murder investigations do we sit, [where] we have someone who's a potential subject and we do the grand jury right away? Just go back in history. It was a week [after the murder that the Chrisman grand jury] was done."

Romley also hotly contested the suggestion by Phoenix police Officer Eric Rude that the County Attorney dictated the probable-cause statement attached to the Chrisman indictment. Rude's testimony came before a hearing seeking a preliminary injunction against Chrisman's firing by Harris, a request the judge granted.

PLEA member Rude told the court that Chief Harris informed him that the County Attorney dictated what was to appear in the statement, referred to as a "form four." This, even though Phoenix homicide Detective Kenny Porter is listed as the author of the form four.

"I triple-checked it," Romley said. "We even contacted the officer that wrote the form four, and he said, 'Absolutely not.'"

PPD spokesman Tommy Thompson explained to me that in major cases, officers may corroborate facts with the county attorney, but the officers actually write the form fours themselves.

The latest round fired from Mehrens' office is a motion seeking a remand of the Chrisman case to the grand jury. Mehrens contends that the prosecutor assigned to the case, Juan Martinez, and another prosecutor, Ted Duffy, misled the grand jury by presenting the case "almost entirely from the point of view of Officer Sergio Virgillo."

Not long after its filing, the legal paperwork found its way to CBS 5, which then produced a hit piece on Duffy, noting that he'd been sanctioned, given a 30-day suspension, and put on probation by the State Bar of Arizona.

The Channel 5 story quoted defense attorney Daniel Raynak's saying he was surprised "anyone would put Duffy in charge of another murder case."

The TV report also noted that Duffy's "one of two prosecutors handling the Chrisman prosecution."

But the County Attorney's Office said it was Martinez who presented the case to the grand jury, not Duffy.

County Attorney's Office spokesman Bill Fitzgerald got back to me with this statement:

"Ted Duffy didn't have anything to do with the presentment of the Chrisman case. He was the person who was assigned that day to the grand jury to read from a piece of paper the standard admonishments with regard to all cases being heard by grand jurors that day.

"He reads from the piece of paper and takes a seat. The actual presentment of the case was done by Juan Martinez."

Asked about Duffy's involvement or non-involvement in the presentation of the case to the grand jury, Mehrens reacted, well, weirdly.

"You know, I am so tired of this shit," wrote Mehrens in an e-mail to me. "Why [is the County Attorney's Office] lying to you? More importantly, why are you buying into it? I actually know the answer to the former question: They cannot support their actions on the facts, so they spin."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons