AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A former software engineer accused of killing a Texas police office laughed after the shooting and said, "I killed a cop," witnesses told jurors Tuesday during the opening day of testimony in his trial.
Brandon Daniel is accused of fatally shooting Austin police officer Jaime Padron after the officer confronted him inside a Walmart store in April 2012. The 26-year-old Daniel, who is originally from Colorado, could face the death penalty if convicted.
Lincoln LeMere, a retail manager at the store, told jurors that Daniel giggled after the shooting and said to him, "I killed a cop," as Padron lay bleeding on the store floor. The description drew gasps from the courtroom audience.
Officer Albert Arevalo testified that Daniel made a similar statement to him at Austin Police Department headquarters. Arevalo also said Daniel stared blankly and spoke in a slurred, lethargic tone.
Defense attorney Russell Hunt Jr. told jurors that Daniel had taken the anti-anxiety drug Xanax the night of the shooting, explaining that he was depressed following a breakup. Store employees testified that Daniel appeared intoxicated as he walked the aisles late at night and occasionally dropped items he had collected, such as wine bottles. He was described as "empty looking," and concern that he may shoplift prompted a call to police.
Padron, 40, responded and identified himself to Daniel. When the officer grabbed Daniel's arm, he pulled away and began to run. Padron tackled him and the two struggled before Daniel pulled a handgun and shot him at close range, LeMere testified.
Daniel has pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys offered a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence without parole, but prosecutors rejected the offer.
Associates have described Daniel as a "brilliant" young man from the Denver suburbs and a computer nerd at Colorado State University. He was seen as a promising engineer at Hewlett-Packard in Austin, but he struggled with depression and had a series of arrests for minor crimes, such as drug possession, according to a story published this week by the Austin American-Statesman.
Hunt told jurors Tuesday that Daniel was not attempting to makes excuses for his behavior the night of the shooting, only to explain that Xanax can lead to changes in personality and perception.