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, state prosecutors and Perez’s attorneys were able to speak publicly about the case at a Dec. 18 hearing where the court determined Perez would be tried as an adult.
Perez’s attorneys filed an application for youthful offender status in October in conection to the capital murder charge he faces in Tuder’s death as well as other unrelated theft and burglary charges. Had that request been granted, it would have limited Perez’s possible prison time to a maximum of three years.
However, due to his prior record, which includes multiple 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 seemed 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].”
Ultimately, 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 oral arguments offered a glimpse into what the defense might argue at Perez’s trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in August 2020.
During the hearing, Darley never represented that Perez didn’t fire the gunshots that took officer Tuder’s life in the parking lot of the Peach Place Inn apartment complex on Jan. 20, 2019. Instead, he seemed to suggest Perez’s actions may have been justified as self-defense under Alabama’s “stand your ground” laws.
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. Prior to the shooting, Perez’s mother had reported him missing and was ultimately charged with filing a false police report.
After Perez went from a missing teen to a wanted fugitive, his case was widely covered in local media.
Tuder, who was one of the officers who’d been pursuing Perez, was off duty the day he was killed, but had requested and received authorization to investigate a tip from a confidential informant about Perez’s location. It was later revealed that the informant, a woman, convinced Perez she’d arranged for her uncle to pick him up at the apartment complex, but she had actually been using Snapchat to communicate with Tuder.
In the end, it was Tuder who showed up that afternoon — in an unmarked Volkswagen and street clothes.
Darley said witnesses testified there was “no verbal interaction” between the two when Tuder exited the vehicle and drew his service weapon. Previous testimony also indicated the only thing visibly identifying Tuder as an officer was a Mobile Police Department (MPD) badge that was at least partially obscured by his jacket.
Darley and his co-counsel, Dennis Knizley, have argued Perez thought he was meeting a friend’s uncle and then defended himself when he was approached by an armed man in a “high-crime area.”
“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 statue.”
From the bench, 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 she “[couldn’t] answer that directly.”
That was also a question MPD was frequently asked in the initial aftermath of the shooting, and on Jan. 23, the department released an official statement saying Tuder was “familiar” with Perez because of the investigation, but there was no evidence to suggest the two of them had previously had “direct contact.”
In court, Darley seemed to suggest much of the case could come down to what little footage 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 footage from five surveillance cameras at the apartments.
“The video will eventually show what it shows and people will have to make their own interpretation,” Darley told reporters after the hearing.
However, while the footage might provide a glimpse into what happened before and after shots were fired, homicide investigators have previously testified the actual shooting happened outside of the cameras’ fields of vision. So far, none of the video footage discussed publicly has audio, either.
Regardless of what happens at Perez’s capital murder trial, he has already been sentenced to four years in federal prison in U.S. District Court on a charge of receiving stolen firearms, because the gun he used to shoot Tuder had been stolen from an unlocked vehicle only a few days before.
Those revelations led to MPD launching a campaign encouraging residents to secure their firearms, as well as a 2019 law making possession of a stolen firearm a felony offense regardless of its value. Prior to that, carrying a stolen gun was charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on how much it cost.
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