ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Law enforcement officers and the widow of a police officer shot and killed after making a traffic stop in an Albuquerque suburb last year watched in tears Thursday as prosecutors showed jurors video of emergency workers trying to render life-saving aid to him.
The suspect on trial for the shooting death of Rio Rancho Officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner also was present as the police lapel video played on a courtroom screen. It came during an emotional first day of testimony in the trial for suspect Andrew Romero.
The trial is expected to last as long as three weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I yelled ‘Nigel’ over and over,” said Officer Gabriel Sanchez, who was among the first on the Rio Rancho police force to respond to the scene on May 25, 2015.
It was Sanchez’s lapel video of the officer as he lay on the pavement that was shown in court in Los Lunas.
Romero, 29, has been charged in Benner’s shooting death. Prosecutors said in opening arguments that they are seeking a first-degree murder conviction against Romero in the case.
The shooting was among several high-profile criminal cases last year that led to calls for tough-on-crime legislation by state lawmakers.
In the defense’s opening arguments, attorney Cindy Leos called into question the honesty of a key witness for prosecutors. She argued before jurors that Tabitha Littles, who authorities say was in the vehicle with Romero when he opened fire on Benner, had lied to authorities during their investigation before taking a plea deal.
The plea deal reached last month called for dropping multiple charges against her, including a count of murder. In exchange, she’ll testify against Romero.
Police said he had a warrant out for his arrest for a probation violation at the time of the shooting, and his prior criminal record includes a manslaughter conviction.
According to authorities, Romero ordered Littles, his girlfriend at the time, to drive off after Benner stopped them, prompting a short chase through a shopping center parking lot that ended outside a library and post office, where Benner was shot with a handgun.
The prosecution said during opening arguments that Benner was struck several times, with one of the bullets entering through his left shoulder.
Benner fell to the ground and a distress call went out over the radio, according to investigators. Within minutes, residents who were nearby and an off-duty paramedic came to the officer’s aid.
He later died at a hospital.
Romero was taken into custody roughly 20 miles away the next day after authorities say he and a group of men robbed a gas station.
The trial was moved 40 miles south from Sandoval County, where the shooting happened, to Valencia County because of extensive media coverage of the case.
This story corrects a previous version that erroneously indicated the 2015 shooting happened this year.