A man accused of shooting a Tucson police officer in the head was found not guilty on Wednesday in Pima County Superior Court.
Richard Mendoza was acquitted on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the nonfatal shooting of police Sgt. Robert Carpenter in November 2012.
Carpenter and two other Tucson Police Department officers responded to a burglar alarm at a home near Broadway and Alvernon Way the night of the incident. As the officers left the home, a 9 mm bullet fired from an unknown location struck Carpenter in the head.
He survived the shooting.
Police arrested Mendoza the following day at a hotel near the home. He had numerous firearms stolen from the house that Carpenter and the other officers had responded to on the night of the shooting.
Mendoza was found guilty of other counts, including two burglary charges and six counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor.
He had previous burglary convictions and could not legally possess guns.
The burglary charges were never in question, as Mendoza’s defense attorney acknowledged he broke into the house twice the night Carpenter was shot.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Bobbi Berry even described her client as a liar, a thief and a methamphetamine addict.
But Berry warned jurors not to punish Mendoza for a crime she said he didn’t commit simply because they may feel contempt for him as a known criminal.
“You can’t choose a verdict based on who you like more,” Berry said.
She challenged statements the prosecution made in closing arguments, particularly a suggestion that jurors needn’t reach consensus on every detail of how the shooting occurred because, as the prosecution said, the “possibilities are endless.”
Deputy Pima County Attorney Kellie Johnson said the state met its burden in proving Mendoza fired the shot, even if it couldn’t show exactly where the shot came from.
“It doesn’t matter where Mr. Mendoza was standing when the gun went off,” Johnson said. What mattered, she said, is “that he was on the other end of the gun.”
Johnson also said the jury didn’t have agree unanimously on the intent of the shooting — whether intentional or reckless.
She also questioned the plausibility of the theory that someone other than Mendoza shot at police.
“The possibility that someone else was standing around in that yard and took a shot at Sergeant Carpenter — is that a real possibility?” Johnson said.
Even though police found numerous stolen firearms in Mendoza’s hotel room when they arrested him, none of the weapons was the one used in the shooting. Johnson said Mendoza had ample time to dispose of a weapon before his arrest.
Mendoza is set for sentencing on the weapons violations later this month. He’ll face sentencing on the burglary convictions in February.