Wall Street Journal
June 2, 2015 8:37 p.m. ET


Mental-Defect Defense Planned for Suspect in NYPD Officer’s Killing


Demetrius Blackwell is arraigned on a 12-count indictment in Queens Supreme Court; district attorney says prosecutors will fight mental-health defense

By JOE JACKSON and PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

The attorney for the man accused of killing a New York City police officer last month told a judge on Thursday that he intends to mount a defense based on his client’s mental health.

David Bart formally introduced his planned defense as his client, Demetrius Blackwell, pleaded not guilty in Queens Supreme Court to 12 charges, including aggravated murder, in the death of Officer Brian Moore.
Mr. Bart, who said he had spoken to prosecutors about using the defense, told Justice Joseph Zayas: “I want at this time to formalize it.”

Earlier Thursday, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced his office will “vigorously oppose” any attempt at a defense that claims Mr. Blackwell’s mental health had a role in the shooting.

Mr. Brown said the defense would first have to meet certain legal requirements. “I have no reason to believe that the defendant can meet that burden... based upon all the information that we have at the present time,” he said.

Medical records previously obtained by The Wall Street Journal show that Mr. Blackwell, 35 years old, has a history of epilepsy and bouts of associated psychosis following a traumatic brain injury he suffered at 15.

Daniel Saunders, the lead prosecutor on the case, said in court that Mr. Bart’s formal notice triggers legal rights for the district attorney’s office, including the right to have the defendant examined and a waiver of Mr. Blackwell’s right to privacy over his medical records.

“[We] can obtain records that would’ve otherwise been privileged,” he said.

Mr. Bart said his client “absolutely consents to that.”

The legal wrangling played out before a packed courtroom that included Mr. Moore’s father, a retired police sergeant; other relatives; and dozens of police officers, including Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch.

Several observers with ties to Mr. Blackwell, including relatives and his girlfriend, Satina Pearce, also were present.

Mr. Blackwell spoke only to confirm his name and other details. Mr. Bart entered a not guilty plea to the charges on his behalf.

Mr. Blackwell is accused of shooting Officer Moore on the night of May 2 in a residential intersection in the Queens Village neighborhood. He was arrested after investigators tracked him to a home close to the crime scene.

Officer Moore, who was a decorated officer in the department, died two days later after he was taken off life support. He was posthumously promoted to detective as the city mourned his death. He was the third officer shot and killed since December.

The 25-year-old officer and his partner, both assigned to the NYPD’s anticrime unit, were patrolling in an unmarked police car when they noticed a man tugging at his waistband and approached him, authorities said.

The officers pulled up alongside Mr. Blackwell, and Officer Moore asked through the driver’s side window, “Do you have something in your waistband?” authorities said.

The suspect allegedly replied, “Yeah, I got something,” pulled out a handgun and fired three times at the officers, striking Officer Moore twice, once each in his head and cheek, authorities said.

At a news conference, Mr. Brown introduced new details about the case. He said a witness has told authorities that the suspect stole a pair of shoes and T-shirt in an effort to conceal his identify.

Authorities have said witnesses identified Mr. Blackwell hopping through a series of backyards while holding a gun, and police recovered from a nearby home a set of clothes and shoes that they believe the suspect was wearing at the time of the shooting.

A law-enforcement official said Mr. Blackwell was wearing shoes that appeared to be too big for him when he was arrested.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Blackwell also had marijuana and cocaine in his possession when he was arrested. The suspect is facing charges for both alleged offenses.

Speaking outside court after the arraignment, Mr. Bart said he still didn’t know the full extent of his client’s mental health history but “there’s some evidence there is a history.”

Mr. Blackwell’s brother, Dwayne Cross, 29, said he hoped all the evidence would emerge over the shooting. “He’s family and I care for him, and I hope for the best.”

Raymond Moore, Brian Moore’s father, said: “I wish New York had the death penalty because I’d love to pull the switch.”

If convicted, Mr. Blackwell faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com