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District Attorney taps private lawyer to prosecute Albuquerque police in homeless man's death

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — The prosecutor removed by a New Mexico judge from the case of two Albuquerque police officers charged in the shooting death of a homeless man last year has tapped a private attorney to handle the case.

Randi McGinn has agreed to prosecute officers Dominque Perez and Keith Sandy, who were charged this year with murder in the March 2014 death of James Boyd during an hourslong standoff.

Authorities have said the homeless man was camping illegally and threatened officers with two knives. Perez and Sandy have denied wrongdoing.

"It's important that the first prosecution of a police shooting caught on videotape be handled in a manner that promotes confidence in our criminal justice system," McGinn said in a statement.

The website for McGinn's firm says she's handled more than 100 jury trials in state and federal courts and her practice areas include wrongful death lawsuits.

State District Judge Alisa Hadfield last week disqualified District Attorney Kari Brandenburg or anyone in her office from prosecuting the case and ordered her to appoint a special prosecutor. Hadfield said the removal was necessary "to ensure the appearance of fairness of trial and to ensure public trust."

Brandenburg said she chose not to appeal Hadfield's decision because "we think our community and the officers need a resolution in this case."

During a news conference Thursday, Brandenburg announced that her office had asked the other 13 district attorneys across the state, the attorney general, and some other private attorneys if they would prosecute the officers. Most couldn't because of resource limitations and other commitments. Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote back that his office "shares some of the same conflicts that caused" Hadfield to disqualify Brandenburg.

The district attorney said she talked and met with McGinn, who agreed this week to prosecute the case for a fee of $5,400, plus out of pocket costs such as for expert witnesses.

Brandenburg said "there's no price on justice" but she wanted to be frugal and effective with taxpayers' dollars.

"I am getting an incredible attorney with incredible talent for a minimal cost, and so I am accomplishing a number of different goals at once," Brandenburg said.

McGinn was not at the news conference, but Brandenburg read her statement to the media.

"No one should be above the law and every Albuquerque citizen — whether a homeless man in the mountains or a police officer patrolling the streets — should be allowed the due process protections afforded by that same law," McGinn said.

Defense lawyers wanted 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. Brandenburg hasn't been charged, and she has denied wrongdoing in the case.

The Boyd killing occurred during a year in which police use of force 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.

A status conference in the case is scheduled May 26. Defense lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

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