Prosecutors on Friday filed a murder charge against an ex-Chandler police officer in such a way that a judge will decide whether he stands trial rather than a grand jury.
The filing of second-degree murder and endangerment charges came a week after Superior Court Judge James Keppel dismissed the case and sent it back to the grand jury for further consideration. Keppel found that Daniel Lovelace, 38, did not get a fair shake when the panel indicted him in November on charges stemming from an on-duty shooting of an Ahwatukee Foothills mother.
Whether a grand jury heard the case since Keppel's ruling is a mystery.
Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, declined to explain why his office decided to file charges directly into Maricopa County Superior Court, which by doing so triggers a preliminary hearing where Lovelace can cross-examine state witnesses, unlike a grand jury proceeding.
FitzGerald also would not say whether prosecutors ever presented the case to a grand jury this week and failed to get an indictment.
Lovelace's attorney, Craig Mehrens, believes that is what happened.
"It's just tragic that (Maricopa County Attorney) Rick Romley can't let a grand jury be the end of it," Mehrens said.
Mehrens said he asked the prosecutors for a preliminary hearing earlier this week, but was declined. He then was given a deadline of Wednesday to give the prosecutor information Lovelace wanted presented to the grand jury, Mehrens said.
Lovelace shot and killed 35-year-old Dawn Rae Nelson Oct. 11 when she fled a criminal investigation into her attempt to pass a fraudulent drug prescription. Prosecutors say he shot her from behind.
Results of grand jury proceedings are secret unless a person gets indicted and is served with the indictment or if a judge decides that making it public is in the interest of justice, according to Arizona law.
Lovelace's initial court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, which is when a preliminary hearing will be set. The preliminary hearing judge, who has yet to be chosen, will decide whether there is probable cause to bind Lovelace over for trial.
"It is a much fuller hearing than occurs before a grand jury," said Richard Gierloff, a defense attorney with more than 20 years experience who is not associated with the case.
Keppel found that a Chandler police detective unintentionally misled the November grand jury about the position of Nelson's body, an inaccuracy that was critical since the incident happened in a matter of seconds.
Gierloff said that in his experience, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office takes the route of a preliminary hearing only in lower level felonies, not homicides, and sometimes to preserve the testimony of witnesses who might not be around for trial.
If Lovelace goes to trial, he will claim self-defense, according to court documents.
He contends Nelson steered her car toward him, putting him in fear for his life.
Lovelace also told investigators that Nelson was facing him when he fired his handgun.
Romley said physical evidence, which included a bullet path that came from behind Nelson, did not match up with Lovelace's statements.
Romley said there were also witnesses who saw Lovelace run after the fleeing car and fire from behind.