A St. Louis judge issued a not-guilty verdict Friday to the white former police officer who killed a black motorist six years ago, leading dozens of protesters to take to the streets downtown.
Jason Stockley, 36, was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American, following a police chase after a suspected drug deal.
Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, meaning the decision rested solely with St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson. The trial ended Aug. 9 and the city, still recovering from the Ferguson unrest, has been on edge waiting for the decision and the aftermath since.
Judge Wilson wrote in Friday’s 30-page ruling:
This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not act in self-defense.”
About 100 demonstrators assembled downtown Tuesday an hour after the verdict was handed down. They gathered near the Carnahan Courthouse and began marching in the streets.
Police have blocked off some streets and prevented some protesters from getting on an interstate ramp.
St. Louis interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully in a statement released after the verdict was announced.
O’Toole said he understands emotions are running but the judge’s decision should be respected, and that protecting citizens is his department’s top priority.
Activists have vowed a Ferguson-like, drawn-out protest if Stockley was found not guilty. Though specific plans weren’t made public, the activists said they would concentrate on peacefully disrupting business. Some targets could include protests at St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and Lambert International Airport.
Barricades were placed around the civil and criminal courthouses as well as the police department to prepare for protests. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens activated the National Guard in anticipation of the ruling on Thursday to assist law enforcement.
According to a probable cause statement attached to the first-degree murder charge, Stockley shot into Smith’s car in north St. Louis on Dec. 20, 2011, then pursued him at more than 80 miles per hour.
“During the pursuit, the defendant is heard saying ‘going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,’” according to the statement.
Smith was shot five times – in the neck, upper chest and forearm and twice in his left flank.
Prosecutors claimed that Stockley had fired his “kill shot” at Smith from just 6 inches away and then planted a revolver in Smith’s car to justify the shooting. Smith had previously been convicted of gun and drug crimes.
Stockley’s DNA, not Smith’s was found on the revolver found in Smith car, according to police reports. The DNA was under a screw on the gun’s handle.
Stockley told investigators he had unloaded the revolver as a safety precaution, and his attorneys argued that action could have transferred his DNA to the gun.
During the trial, prosecutors grilled law enforcement witnesses on why Stockley was allowed to return to his police SUV and search Smith’s silver Buick without wearing gloves and why the other responding officers did not give Smith first aid at the scene.
Stockley’s lawyer argued that his client acted reasonably at the end of a “near-death” police chase to arrest a drug suspect who endangered the officers’ lives as well as innocent bystanders on St. Louis streets. Police witnesses testified that officers routinely handle and unload weapons they encounter, in an attempt to explain how Stockley’s DNA was on the gun.
The Associated Press contributed to this developing story.
Top photo | Protesters gather outside of the courthouse, Sept. 15, 2017, in downtown St. Louis, after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011. (AP/Jeff Roberson)
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