Amonette verdict disturbs Rifle cop, DA

A Rifle policeman who was shot in his protective vest in 2010 says he is not all that happy with the shooter’s acquittal on the most serious charge in his trial, but that “justice still did prevail,” thanks to a conviction on a lesser charge.

A jury deliberated more than six hours Monday before acquitting Phil Amonette, 54, of attempted first-degree murder of the officer, Garrett Duncan,  on Oct. 22, 2010. Jurors did find Amonette guilty of first-degree assault of a peace officer with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief.

The attempted-murder charge was punishable by up to 48 years in prison. But 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson said Amonette still faces a sentence of 10 to 32 years in prison for the assault conviction.

“Mr. Amonette will be held responsible for his actions,” said Duncan, whose left chest was bruised in the shooting. Police Chief Daryl Meisner has said the vest saved his life.

Both Meisner and Beeson say that although they respect the jurors’ decision, it sends the wrong message to the public. Beeson called it “a message that you can shoot a police officer in the heart and not be held accountable for it.”

Juror James Maier said the problem for many on the jury was that convicting Amonette on the attempted-murder charge required finding that he intended to shoot and kill Duncan, “as opposed to an accidental shot or a random shot.”

Amonette shot Duncan as Duncan and fellow officer Dewey Ryan responded to a domestic violence call at residential quarters in a U-Haul office on Whiteriver Avenue. Ryan shot Amonette several times, and Amonette recovered from life-threatening injuries.

Amonette’s public defenders said he was simply trying to leave the premises with possessions including his gun, which may accidentally have gone off as he lifted a garage door.

Maier said he doesn’t think many jurors agreed the shooting was accidental, but the difficulty they faced was how to determine Amonette’s intentions.

“If it was a crime to be stupid, we would have given him 200 years,” Maier said.

“He did many, many stupid things,” including picking up the gun to begin with and then not dropping it when ordered, Maier said.

Duncan said he had thought the question of intent might hang up the jury.

“I’m not upset with the jurors at all. They did exactly what was asked of them and they did a great job,” he said.

He said the assault conviction and its sentencing range still are significant, and he hopes the case’s outcome “will show people that it’s not a good idea to assault a police officer.”

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