AUSTIN (KXAN) - Pursuing the death penalty for the capital murder suspect accused of killing Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron is something the Austin police chief feels should be left up to the community.
Chief Art Acevedo joined KXAN News Today on Thursday to mark his five-year anniversary to the day that he took his oath of office to lead the more than 1,720 men and women in blue.
During that time, he made it clear that he strongly feels the death penalty should be pursued but added that ultimately "it should be left up to the people of this city."
"Let them make the call, one way or the other, because at the end of the day, it's their officer that was murdered," he said. "It was their officer that was savagely attacked, and it was their peace that was really just shattered that morning. I really feel strongly that that's a matter for the people of this city for the trial process to decide."
Acevedo wants the death penalty to be an option for a jury if Daniel is convicted.
"I think what he's saying is look- we're not saying if a jury is going to give it or not- just don't take that option off the table," said former Travis County prosecutor Mindy Montford. "Ultimately the decision will be Rosemary Lehmberg's- a huge decision for her- but she's certainly going to have enough information and enough people giving her opinions to make that decision effectively."
Lehmberg has not said if her office will pursue the death penalty in the capital murder case, but Montford said she is likely busy consulting with other prosecutors in the DA's office, along with family members of Padron, and the Police Chief.
"Based on what we know right now- and just the outpouring of emotion this community felt for that officer- plus- with Chief Acevedo's strong feelings that he has not hidden from public- it sounds like this will be a case where they will ultimately seek it- and let the citizens of Travis County decide it," said Montford.
Acevedo said that on April 6 Brandon Daniel, 24, "callously" murdered a 40-year-old father of two girls, attacking the man in uniform who stood as a symbol of peace and order in the community.
"It's really, you're attacking the fabric, the fiber of a community," he said. "We are truly the last line between order and chaos in a city."
The shooting left the department in shock.
"Anytime you lose a family member, especially when you see an officer in this uniform lying in their own pool of blood, it is something you don't forget," he said. "There's two things that really impact you: children and people in uniform."
And it's a moment the fallen officer's leader won't forget.
"It will be etched in my mind, in my heart, in my soul -- just like a lot of things you see in this career that really touch you," he said. "But it was a true blessing because, you know, the critics in this city are few, but they are loud. They're consistent, and they're, you know, given a lot of air time. My officers might start thinking, 'Hey we're not supported."
Acevedo said the message was clear amid the tragedy.
"And that gift that he gave us was the opportunity for this city to show the men and women in blue just how truly they're admired and they're supported," he said. "And it was a great gift that he gave us on his way to heaven."
It was an outpouring for a fallen officer that prompted the Austin Police Association to offer a public "thank you" for the way the community rallied by the thousands throughout the state to ease the sorrows of rank-and-file cops.
Capital murder suspect in court
Daniel appeared in court for the first time Wednesday during a pretrial hearing, where his lawyers asked prosecutors to let them know as soon as possible whether their client will face the death penalty in the upcoming capital murder trial.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg has not said yet whether she will seek the death penalty in the officer's killing.
"It's one thing to knowingly and intentionally, in other words, you have to have intent to kill a police officer in the line of duty," said Daniel's defense attorney Bill White after Wednesday's court hearing. "If you don't, then it's not capital murder."
That means a decision will likely wait while prosecutors make sure they have an air-tight case.
Daniel allegedly shot Padron to death while responding to an early morning call about someone acting erratically inside the store. When he approached Daniel, the officer was shot in the neck.
Daniel had reportedly been drinking heavily and under the influence of Xanax in the hours before the shooting.
Police said store employees took down Daniel and tried desperately to save Padron's life -- even using his radio to call in for help.
Police arrested the 24-year-old following the North Austin Walmart killing, and a grand jury indicted Daniel on the capital murder charge nearly three months after that.
Daniel has been in custody since the shooting. He was also hospitalized in May, but because of medical privacy laws, authorities could not say why.
Shooting death of 'best of the best'
Padron's killing galvanized the Austin community, and his funeral was carried out throughout the course of several days in both Austin and in his hometown of San Angelo.
Padron joined APD just more than three years ago and also served as a police officer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as part of the Emergency Management Department that consolidated with APD in 2009.
Before that, he spent 14 years as a police officer in San Angelo.
In Austin, Padron represented the North East Area Command for the Austin Police Officers Association's Board of Directors.
Before beginning his career in law enforcement, Padron served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was also deployed in both Gulf wars.
He was 40 and left behind two young daughters, as well as parents and other family members who live in San Angelo.
"He was a very special human being. I miss him. I know his family misses him," said Acevedo on Thursday.
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