Former St. Louis po­lice of­fi­cer found not guilty in mur­der trial

Protests yield in­juries, 13 ar­rests

Pawtucket Times - - NATION/WORLD - By MARK BER­MAN

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.

Stock­ley

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