Court records reveal potential defense strategy in Arizona ballerina’s death (2024)

TEMPE, AZ — It’s been two years since Christopher Hoopes admitted to shooting his wife in the middle of the night inside their Tempe home.

In a 911 call obtained by ABC15, he tells the dispatcher he shot his wife on accident with a 9-mm gun.

“I woke up in the night, and I was startled,” he said.

Court records reveal potential defense strategy in Arizona ballerina’s death (1)

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Colleen Hoopes, a 25-year-old ballerina with Ballet Arizona, died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Court records reveal potential defense strategy in Arizona ballerina’s death (2)

courtesy Deb Buckley

Christopher Hoopes has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and is facing trial later this year. Legal experts believe recently filed court records suggest a possible defense strategy – one they say is rarely used in murder cases.

“At the time of the incident, Mr. Hoopes was legally prescribed medications. The use of these medications and the effects of these medications are directly relevant to Mr. Hoopes’ defense,” according to a recently filed motion from Hoopes’ attorneys.

In the motion, Hoopes is seeking permission from the court to hire two expert witnesses: a pharmacologist and a forensic psychiatrist. The pharmacologist is needed to “educate the jury on the medication, uses and side effects of the legally prescribed medications.” The forensic psychiatrist is needed to assist attorneys and “educate the jury on Mr. Hoopes’ mental state, the effects of various medications and how the relevant medications impact intent.”

The judge granted their request to hire the expert witnesses.

Court records don’t name the specific medications Hoopes was prescribed. He told police he took medications for blood pressure and asthma, according to a police report. Police found prescription bottles in his name at the couple’s house. The names of the drugs are redacted in a police report released to the public, however.

Hoopes’ attorney, David Dow, told ABC15 he won’t be commenting while the criminal case is ongoing.

James Charnesky, a Tucson attorney who is not involved in the case, told ABC15 that Hoopes may be considering a defense called “involuntary intoxication.” This is where a defendant claims their legally prescribed medicine caused unintended, even dangerous, side effects that affected their perception.

“We’re all aware that prescription drugs can affect how you perceive things. It says so on the bottles,” Charnesky said.

In a second-degree murder case, the prosecution will have to prove the defendant’s “state of mind” at the time of the shooting, he said. The prosecution will likely argue he committed the crime with full knowledge about what he was doing or acted so recklessly he should have known better.

“And this is where this involuntary intoxication comes in,” he said. “’Hey, all I did was take prescription medicines, I followed my doctor's advice. And I don't have any idea what happened there that night, because those medicines looped me out,’” he said.

No one tracks how often the “involuntary intoxication” defense is used.

Across the country, there are indications the defense may be on the rise in court appeals.

A 2015 article, "The Defense of Involuntary Intoxication by Prescribed Medications: An Appellate Case Review,” found 219 cases pre-1960 through 2012 that referenced that defense.

Dr. Jennifer Piel, the author, wrote that the major challenge with the involuntary intoxication defense is proving whether the defendant actually ingested the medication in question.

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She cited a 2010 case in Florida where evidence showed the defendant in that case hadn’t been taking the medication he claimed altered his behavior at the time of the murder. Toxicology reports, witness statements and prescription refill information are all evidence that could corroborate – or undermine – the defendant’s story, according to the article.

Charnesky, the Tucson attorney, said it’s still early in the pre-trial stages for Christopher Hoopes’ defense.

“They’re just asking to have these experts so they can do their investigation,” he said. “This doesn’t mean this is what his defense is going to be.”

Colleen Hoopes’ death made national headlines in 2022.

She had been part of Ballet Arizona, a professional dance company in Phoenix, since 2017.

She danced in signature pieces, including George Balanchine’s Serenade, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Ballet Arizona’s annual classic, The Nutcracker.

Court records reveal potential defense strategy in Arizona ballerina’s death (5)

ALEXANDER IZILIAEV

She met Christopher Hoopes through a church youth group. The couple married in 2020.

After her death, her mother, Deb Buckley, told police the couple “had some rocky times because Christopher was very controlling.” She told police he did not want Colleen to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and that caused a “strain in their relationship.”

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courtesy Deb Buckley

Her mother also told police he wanted to have children right away. But Colleen wanted to wait and focus on her ballet career. That was “a source of tension in their relationship,” according to the police report.

Her family has stayed private. Her younger sister, Michaela Buckley, told ABC15 that the family is focused on honoring Colleen and the light and life she brought to everything she did.

Christopher Hoopes’ trial has been pushed back several times, which is common in murder cases. The latest trial date is set for July 22but is likely to be moved back again.

Email ABC15 Investigator Anne Ryman at:anne.ryman@abc15.com, call her at 602-685-6345, or connect on X, formerly known as Twitter, and Facebook.

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Court records reveal potential defense strategy in Arizona ballerina’s death (2024)

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