Trial ends but verdict will wait in St. Louis cop's trial
Posted August 9
ST. LOUIS — Attorneys made their final pitches Wednesday for why a former St. Louis police officer should or shouldn't be found guilty of murder in the 2011 killing of a suspect, leaving his fate in the hands of the judge, who won't rule until late next week at the earliest.
Jason Stockley shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith five times after a car chase in 2011. Stockley, who resigned in 2013 and now lives in Houston, testified Tuesday that he saw Smith holding a gun before the chase started and that he shot him because he felt he was in imminent danger.
Prosecutors, though, alleged that Stockley planted a gun in Smith's car after he shot him. During closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele emphasized that dashcam video during the chase captured Stockley saying he was "Going to kill this (expletive), don't you know it." Less than a minute later, he did just that.
"He made a promise, 'I'm killing the (expletive),'" Steele said. "And that's exactly what he did."
Stockley's lawyer, Neil Bruntrager, dismissed the comment as "human emotions" in the context of a dangerous police pursuit. He also pointed out that the audio is muddled and that it's hard to understand what Shockley was saying leading into that comment.
Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson gave the two sides until Aug. 18 to submit post-trial briefs, after which he'll hand down a verdict. Stockley, who is charged with first-degree murder, was granted his request for a bench trial rather than a jury trial despite the objections of prosecutors.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Stockley could face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Missouri has the death penalty, but prosecutors opted not to pursue it.
Stockley, 36, was charged last year after then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce cited unspecified new evidence in the case.
The encounter began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot after seeing what appeared to be a drug deal. Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled "Gun!" as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.
Bruntrager said Smith, a parole violator with previous convictions for gun and drug crimes, tried to run over the two officers. Stockley fired seven shots as Smith sped away. The officers chased him for three miles (five kilometers) before catching up.
At the end of the chase, Stockley opened fire only when Smith, still in his car, refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat "in the area where the gun was," Bruntrager said. He also argued that Missouri law allows an officer to use of deadly force if the officer "reasonably believes" that a fleeing suspect is a danger to police or the public.
But Steele cited curious details after the shooting, including Stockley digging into a bag in the back seat of the police SUV before returning to Smith's car. The gun found in Smith's car didn't have his DNA on it, but it had Stockley's.
"The gun was a plant," Steele said.
In his earlier testimony, Stockley said he retrieved a "quick clot" pack from the police SUV and put it in his shirt pocket. He said he climbed into Smith's car after Smith's body was removed to search for the gun. He said he found a revolver stuffed between the center console and passenger seat.
Smith's death was one of several U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect. Wednesday marked the third anniversary of fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Brown, a black 18-year-old, was unarmed.
Associated Press writer Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.