Attorneys for Marco Perez are preparing to argue the 20-year-old capital murder suspect was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Mobile Police Officer Sean Tuder earlier this year.
Because Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks issued a gag order in the case months ago, it has been proceeding relatively quietly. However, prosecutors and Perez’s attorneys were able to speak publicly about the case during a Dec. 18 hearing to determine whether Perez would be tried as an adult.
Perez’s attorneys filed an application for youthful offender status in October in connection to the capital murder charge he faces in Tuder’s death as well as other unrelated theft and burglary charges. Had the request been granted, it would have limited Perez’s possible prison time to a maximum of three years.
However, because of his record, which includes previous arrests and a suspension from Theodore High School, state prosecutors argued against the request. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright said Perez had been granted youthful offender before and should be viewed as an adult in the eyes of the law.
“It is clear throughout this case that he was avoiding law enforcement and avoiding arrest. He used a stolen weapon he wasn’t permitted to have, and he intentionally killed a Mobile Police Officer,” Wright said. “That is absolutely not a youthful act. Those are adult actions, and that is adult behavior.”
While many in the local community were aghast that Perez’s attorneys would even make a youthful offender application to the court, the request seemed to be more of a formality.
His attorney, Jason Darley, told reporters it had to be made to follow the proper “protocols” for capital cases in Alabama.
“The law requires us to request this for any defendant under 21 years of age,” Darley said. “We have to do it, or the case could come back [on appeal].”
In the end, Brooks’ decision came swiftly — denying the defense’s youthful offender request and setting a status hearing in the case for late January. But, while brief, the hearing offered a small glimpse into what the defense might argue at Perez’s trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in August of next year.
During the hearing, Darley never argued that Perez didn’t fire the shots that killed Tuder in the parking lot of the Peach Place Inn apartment complex on Jan. 20, 2019. Instead, he seemed to argue that his actions may have been justified as self-defense under Alabama’s “stand your ground” laws.
As has been reported, Tuder was gunned down while attempting to serve an arrest warrant on Perez, who had been on the run from local authorities for weeks over pending state and federal charges.
Tuder was off duty the day he was killed but requested and received authorization to investigate a tip from a confidential informant that Perez had been spotted. Police later revealed that the informant had told Perez she would arrange for him to be picked up by her uncle. In the end, it was Tuder who showed up — in an unmarked Volkswagen and street clothes.
Darley said witnesses testified that there was “no verbal interaction” between Tuder and Perez when exited the vehicle and drew his service weapon and the only thing visibly identifying him as a police officer was an MPD badge, which was at least partially obscured by a jacket he was wearing.
“At this point in time, when he’s encountered by a non-uniform officer in an unmarked car, this brings in the stand your ground doctrine,” Darley said in court. “It’s self-defense if you take out the officer’s involvement, and you have to analyze the case in that light because, if he’s not identifying himself and he’s pointing a firearm at another individual, that individual is operating under the self-defense statute.”
Brooks questioned whether there had been any prior interaction between the two, presumably to see if there was any way Perez might have recognized Tuder as a police officer. Wright said there might have been some previous interaction, but that she “[couldn’t] answer that directly.”
MPD has previously said that Tuder was “familiar” with Perez from searching for him, but there [was] “no evidence to suggest any previous direct contact” between the two of them.
Darley also seemed to suggest in court that much of the case could come down to what little film there is of the moments leading up to the fatal shooting. Because Tuder was off duty, he wasn’t wearing a body camera, but investigators were able to extract surveillance footage from five cameras at the complex.
“The video will eventually show what it shows and people will have to make their own interpretation,” Darley told reporters Wednesday.
However, while the footage might provide a glimpse into what happened before and after shots were fired, homicide investigators have previously testified that the actual shooting happened outside of the cameras’ fields of vision. So far, none of the video footage discussed publicly has audio, either.
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