Former St. Louis police officer found not guilty in murder trial
Protests yield injuries, 13 arrests
Crowds of demonstrators marched in the St. Louis region on Friday following the acquittal of a white former police officer who was charged with murder last year for fatally shooting a black driver after a car chase and then accused by prosecutors of planting a gun on the victim.
Prosecutors charged Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer, with murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. According to the probable cause statement, Stockley was caught saying he was "going to kill this m ********* er, don't you know it" and was heard telling another officer to drive into Smith's slowing car.
The court document, submitted by the St. Louis circuit attorney, said Stockley then approached Smith's window and fired five times into the car, hitting Smith "with each shot" and killing him. In addition, prosecutors say, there was a gun found in Smith's car, but it was later determined to only have DNA from Stockley.
Judge Timothy Wilson, the circuit judge who heard the case in a bench trial, acquitted Stockley on the murder charge as well as a charge of armed criminal action in a 30-page order released Friday morning.
Wilson wrote that he was "simply not firmly convinced" of Stockley's guilt, saying that "agonizingly," he went over the case's evidence repeatedly. Ultimately, Wilson said, he was not convinced that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley "did not act in self-defense," as the former officer had said.
Local and state officials said they were prepared for potential unrest to follow the acquittal, and some schools were shuttered around the St. Louis area and events set for the region were postponed as the verdict loomed.
Police said Friday evening that a total of 13 people have been arrested and four officers were injured during the protests.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, R, on Thursday put the state's National Guard on standby in advance of the verdict and potential protests.
"We know this verdict causes pain for many people," Greitens said in a statement Friday. "We have been in touch with city and county officials, and the state of Missouri will continue to assist them. I'm committed to protecting everyone's constitutional right to protest peacefully, while also protecting people's lives, homes, and communities. For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully."
Greitens had said putting the National Guard on standby was "a necessary precaution." Before the verdict was announced, Greitens stood with Christina Wilson, Smith's fiancee, to deliver a joint message asking people to protest peacefully.
"If you feel like you want to speak out, speak how you feel," Wilson said at the news briefing. "And whatever comes to you, just do it in a peaceful way."
Greitens, speaking after Wilson, said he knew people could feel pain after the verdict, but asked them not to "turn that pain into violence."
"One life has been lost in this case, and we don't need more bloodshed," he said.
Neil Bruntrager, an attorney for Stockley, said the former officer felt "obvious relief" at the result Friday.
In a telephone interview, Bruntrager said the judge's detailed opinion explaining the verdict was his "best effort in that regard to make sure people understand why he did what he did."
The potential for unrest has gripped the St. Louis region, which was rocked in 2014 when an officer in suburban Ferguson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager.
That shooting prompted intense, sometimes violent protests, as did the decision months later not to indict that officer, Darren Wilson.