When Sgt. Billy Anders emerged from his prison cell in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I expected to greet a man filled with anger and resentment after a judge recently sentenced him to one year in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
For his own protection, Anders is serving this sentence in solitary confinement. He's locked in a concrete room with a small window 23 hours a day, surrounded by violent criminals, some of whom are on death row for heinous crimes.
As I greeted Anders, I found a former cop who seemed more concerned about how our crew was holding up in such a depressing place than with his own well-being. I sensed no prejudice or hatred from this cop who served 31 years on the force, just one year short of retirement.
During our two-hour interview, I looked for signs of malice in Anders' demeanor that might suggest he killed Earl Flippen, a former white supremacist, out of revenge for his partner's death. Anders shot Flippen just moments after Flippen killed his partner. They were responding to a domestic disturbance call in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
We asked Anders to explain why he still felt threatened even after severely wounding Flippen and placing him in handcuffs. We asked him why his account differs so much from what appears in his patrol car video camera, which captured the incident.
Anders said he has little memory of his decision to pump a fatal bullet into Flippen's chest. He said he only wants the court of public opinion to consider the totality of the circumstances that led to the shooting, believing his life and that of a 3-year-old girl he was trying to save were in danger. Anders had already lost his partner. The girl's mom had been killed too.
Videotape can be a powerful witness, especially when it appears to contradict a police officer's account of an incident. In this case, it appears that Billy simply cannot justify his actions. Even his own team of investigators and the town's chief prosecutor saw a crime there. If the state didn't act, the feds were preparing to intervene.
After a distinguished career in law enforcement, and without ever firing a single shot on duty before this incident, Anders now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, reading scripture, pondering why this all happened. He gets one hour a day to shower and shave.
Billy has accepted responsibility for his actions, and many residents in this remote corner of southern New Mexico's national forest consider him a hero.
In the meantime, he says he thinks often of that little girl's future, even as he struggles to find redemption at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, the very same place that Earl Flippen, the man he killed, once served hard-time.