NEW YORK—An ex-con with a long criminal record pleaded not guilty on Thursday to first-degree murder in last month’s killing of a New York Police Department officer, while 100 fellow officers stood watch in the courtroom.
Demetrius Blackwell faces a 12-count indictment in the shooting death of 25-year-old Officer Brian Moore, the third NYPD officer slain on duty in five months. Moore was shot twice in the head on May 2 and lingered in a coma before dying two days later.
Many of the officers in the courtroom for Blackwell’s arraignment wore T-shirts that said: “In memory of P.O. Brian Moore. … Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch and Moore’s father were seated in the courtroom gallery. Moore’s father stared at Blackwell the entire proceeding while sitting amid the sea of blue.
“That animal should be in a cage, and I wish New York had a death penalty because I’d pull the switch myself,” the victim’s father, Raymond Moore, a police officer himself, said afterward.
Police said Brian Moore and his partner had approached Blackwell that night after they saw him adjusting his waistband. Authorities said Blackwell refused to stop and turned and fired at the officers, striking Moore.
Afterward, the 35-year-old Blackwell stole a T-shirt and sneakers to alter his appearance, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. He was also found with cocaine and marijuana, Brown said.
“Officer Moore was a young police officer with a bright and promising future whose life was senselessly cut short far too soon,” Brown said at a news conference earlier Thursday announcing the indictment. “His death is a somber and costly reminder of the dangers that our police officers face each day as they carry out their sworn duty to protect and serve our communities.”
Blackwell’s attorney, David Bart, said in court that he would begin pursuing a “defense of mental disease or defect.” He said his client has a history of epilepsy and psychosis and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
But Brown said he doubted Blackwell’s attorney could meet the legal burden to prove that. He said prosecutors believe Blackwell knew right from wrong and would be held legally responsible for the shooting.
Assistant District Attorney Daniel Saunders said the defense would mean Blackwell waives his right to medical privacy and prosecutors could begin reviewing his medical records.
“Just because I’m pursuing mental disease or defect doesn’t mean I’m not also looking at making sure they have the right guy, making sure they can prove the elements of the crime. Everything’s on the table at this point,” Bart told reporters.
Outside the courthouse, Blackwell’s uncle, Jaime Taylor, said he believed his nephew was innocent and questioned whether prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.
“There is no proof,” he said. “They don’t have anything to pinpoint that he did it.”
“He has brain issues,” Taylor said of his nephew. “He doesn’t think correctly, but at the same time, we’re not saying he’s guilty of this crime.”
The indictment against Blackwell includes aggravated murder, second-degree murder, attempted murder, weapon possession, drug, and stolen property charges.
If convicted, Blackwell could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors will not offer him a plea deal, Brown said.
At Blackwell’s initial arraignment last month while Moore lay mortally wounded, prosecutors said he told police he is known by the nickname “Hellraiser” on the street.
“That’s nonsense,” Bart said Thursday. “He’s known by a lot of people as a sweetheart and a nice guy.” He said his client was very peaceful, but “sometimes people can have breaks, depending on what the nature of their illness is.”
State corrections records show Blackwell was convicted in 2001 of attempted murder after he pointed a gun at an occupant of a car during a robbery attempt and then fired shots at the vehicle. He served five years behind bars and was sent back to prison for violating parole in 2007. He was released again in 2008.
Authorities said Blackwell was also arrested in 2013 after he grabbed an NYPD detective’s badge and spit at him.