It is the first time in 20 years a police officer has stood trial for murder in St. Louis, MO. And it’s been a few years since the alleged crime was committed: Jason Stockley, a white former cop, killed Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, after a car chase in 2011.
Stockley, now 36, who wasn’t arrested until last year, faces a first-degree murder charge. Prosecutors also argued that Stockley planted a gun inside Smith’s car to feign self-defense.
Opening arguments in the case began on Tuesday. Prosecutors told the courtroom that Stockley had “executed” Smith, an apparently unarmed black man, with five shots — once in his neck, upper chest, and forearm; twice in his left side, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Prosecutors hadn’t revealed their claim that Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s rented Buick until trial, though their evidence makes a strong case. The .38-caliber gun another officer later retrieved from Smith’s car has Stockey’s DNA on it and not Smith’s. Dash cam footage also shows Stockley returning to Smith’s car several times after the shooting.
From The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The video shows Stockley then climbing into the driver’s seat of the Buick immediately after Smith is pulled out. Police reports say Stockley’s DNA — but not Smith’s — was on the .38-caliber Taurus revolver police said was found in Smith’s car. Stockley told investigators he unloaded the revolver as a safety precaution after the shooting.
Neil Bruntrager, Stockley’s lawyer, argued that his DNA was on the weapon because he had unloaded it after the shooting. Stockley was also carrying his personal AK-47, which was unauthorized, when he killed Smith.
The car chase that preceded Smith’s death began when Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, witnessed him allegedly dealing drugs in a parking lot. Around midday, Stockley and Bianchi tried to pull Smith over but he fled; after three miles Smith crashed.
From NBC News:
“Stockley fired several shots from his department-issued pistol, breaking the rear window of the Buick, and the chase ensued, with speeds reaching 87 mph. Stockley reported shots being fired. According to court records, he then said, “Going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it,” — something Bruntrager denied.”
Prosectors acknowledged Smith’s attempt to flee, but contended that his death was unnecessary and absolutely unjust. “Anthony Smith did not deserve to die,” Levinson told the court. “He may have fled from police, but he did not deserve to be executed.”
Stockley’s arrest and premeditated murder charge, especially given that he was on active duty at the time, is rare — and the case won’t be heard by a jury. Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson will decide Smith’s fate after a the trial concludes. Wilson appears to be no nonsense: during opening statements he told a crowded courtroom that the “Ringling Brothers Circus died [and] it will not be resurrected here.”
Whether that will play to the prosecution’s favor is unclear, but killer cops don’t exactly have a high conviction rate in America.