ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A New Mexico judge has removed the prosecutor from the case of two Albuquerque police officers charged in the shooting death of a homeless man last year.
Defense lawyers wanted prosecutor Kari Brandenburg disqualified because they believed she has a conflict of interest, in part because she was under investigation by Albuquerque police for bribery and witness intimidation in a case involving her adult son.
Second Judicial District Court Judge Alisa Hadfield agreed in a ruling Thursday, preventing Brandenburg or anyone in her office from prosecuting the case.
"Disqualification of District Attorney Brandenburg is necessary to ensure the appearance of fairness of trial and to ensure public trust or confidence in the criminal justice system," Hadfield wrote.
A special prosecutor will be appointed to handle the case of officers Dominque Perez and Keith Sandy, who were charged earlier this year with murder in the March 2014 death of James Boyd during an hourslong standoff. The homeless man was camping illegally and had threatened officers with two knives, authorities have said.
The killing occurred during a year in which police shootings gained attention and prompted protests nationwide.
Perez and Sandy are the first officers that Brandenburg has charged with murder after reviewing more than 20 on-duty shootings and presenting dozens of police shootings to grand juries.
Her office had argued that she should remain on the case because Brandenburg is the elected district attorney and because video evidence from Perez's on-body camera backed up the charges.
Brandenburg issued a statement late Thursday saying she's carefully reviewing how to move forward in the best interest of the public.
"Everyone deserves more than a hasty response in regard to such an important ruling," she said.
Perez and Sandy have denied wrongdoing.
Perez's attorney, Luis Robles, said he's hopeful a new prosecutor will take a fresh look at the evidence, "someone who is detached and doesn't have a dog in the fight saying 'this is an unwinnable case and it shouldn't be brought."
"One of the concerns that many folks have raised here is that the filing of this case was political in nature," he said.
A status conference in the case is scheduled May 26. Robles said defense attorneys also will be seeking a change in venue.
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