Weld County jury weighs whether to convict Fort Lupton officer who shot and killed man last year

The fate of a Fort Lupton police officer who fatally shot a man in the chest last year is in the hands of Weld County jury, as jurors debate whether the officer was justified in using lethal force or whether he had other options.

Zachary Helbig, the only Colorado police officer to be charged in an officer-involved shooting last year, was indicted by a grand jury in April and faces one count of manslaughter after shooting and killing 46-year-old Shawn Billinger on Jan. 16, 2019. Jury deliberations began Friday afternoon.

During closing arguments, Gary Lozow, Helbig’s defense attorney, said that as Billinger approached Helbig that day, the officer had only 10 seconds to make an immensely difficult decision.

“The truth is, he did what he was trained to do,” Lozow told the jury, pausing silently for 10 seconds to demonstrate his point. “He acted in self defense. He did what he needed to do to save his life.”

Helbig had no malevolence toward Billinger, Lozow said. He didn’t want the man to die. But when the 6-foot-4 Billinger, high on meth, came at him, the officer didn’t have time to weigh his options and use non-lethal force.

“I don’t know what funeral we’d be at if Helbig did that,” the attorney said.

But Helbig never had to be in that life-or-death situation, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke argued. The officer had “every opportunity to create time and distance.” Helbig knew backup was coming. He knew Billinger was big, high and potentially armed.

“Why not stop there and assess the situation?” Rourke asked the jury.

Ultimately, the district attorney said, this case came down to a few simple questions: Why did Billinger have to die?