St. Louis, Missouri (KMOV) — A St. Louis judge has acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Smith.
“This court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt. Agonizingly, this court has poured over the evidence again and again. This court has viewed the video evidence from the restaurant’s surveillance camera, the cameras in the police vehicle, and the cell phone video by the lay witness, over and over again – innumerable times,” read a portion of the court document.
Stockley, a former St. Louis Police Officer, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Smith, who was shot and killed following a police chase in 2011.
Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued his ruling early Friday against 36-year-old Jason Stockley. Stockley could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole had he been convicted.
According to the court document, the state asked if Stockley was found not guilty to consider if he would be guilty of a lesser degree of homicide, not to consider lesser offenses. The document states that “the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley did not act in self-defense.”
During the trial, which began with opening statements on August 1, the prosecution argued that Stockley intended to kill, fired a “kill shot” and planted a gun following the fatal shooting. An FBI expert testified that one shot was fired at Smith from less than six inches away.
“The Court finds the State’s contention there was a fifth ‘kill shot’ fired by Stockley after a gap in time, is not supported by the evidence. No witness testified to hearing a shot separated in time from the first group of successive shots,” read the court document regarding the prosecution’s argument. “Antonio French, a witness for the state, testified that the gun shots were in rapid succession and that one shot was not separated in time from the other shots.”
In regards to a gun being planted, the court stated the State’s contention was not supported by the evidence.
“The gun was a full size revolver and not a small gun, such as a derringer, that can fit in the palm of one’s hand or into the side pocket on a pair of pants without being obvious,” read the court document. “Stockley was not wearing a jacket; if he had such a gun in his possession it would have been visible on the cell phone video. The gun was too large to fit entirely within any of the pockets on the pants he was wearing, there was no bulge in any pocket indicating a gun within the pocket, and the gun would have been visible if it was tucked into his belt.”
Some of the questioning at the trial focused on a portion of cell phone video where Stockley was seen taking off his gloves. Police officers who testified during the trial said they wouldn’t take off gloves if they were about to handle evidence.
The court document state that “Stockley’s explanation for removing the gloves is plausible, other officers at the scene either did not have winter gloves or had removed them prior to exiting their vehicles, and it makes sense that a person would remove gloves when searching inside his personal bag.”
The dash camera video starts at a local fast food place. Stockley is seen with his personal AK-47, which is against department policy to have. He’s also seen taking shots at Smith’s car with his duty weapon.
The dash camera also shows Stockley rifling through a bag in the back of the police car, but his body blocks what he retrieves. The defense argued he was going to retrieve a medical pad in order the render aid. An officer during the trial stated that no one attempted to render aid to Smith at the scene.
The defense argued that Smith created the violent encounter and fled from Stockley and his partner. They also claimed a gun was not planted and that Stockley acted in self-defense and reasonably.
Stockley took the stand in his own defense during the trial. When he took the stand, he stated he was carrying his personal AK-47 because he valued his life and other people’s lives over the department policy that states personal weapons cannot be carried.
According to the court document, there was no evidence that Stockley fired his personal weapon. The court found that the possession of the gun might be a matter for departmental discipline but was not relevant to the criminal charges.
The trial concluded with closing statements on August 9, with the judge stating it would be days or weeks before a verdict was reached.
“No one promised a rose garden, and this surely is not one. Missouri law requires that the trier of fact by ‘firmly convinced’ of the defendant’s guilt in order to convict,” read a portion of the court document. “The burden on the State to prove a criminal defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt applies to every criminal defendant. The requirement that the State meet its burden of proof is not a mere ‘technicality’ and the instant case is not decided on a technicality.”
Following the verdict release, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said she was disappointed with court’s decision but remains committed to holding people accountable for violating the law.
“While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith. However, in this case it was the judge’s duty to evaluate the evidence and deliver his findings. That’s how our system works. I’m very proud of my team’s effort and commitment to the pursuit of justice on behalf of Mr. Smith’s family and the people of St. Louis.” Gardner said her job is to ensure a fair and transparent process and to vigorously present the evidence in the best manner possible, and her team did exactly that.
Gardner said, “In light of the verdict, it’s time to take a harder look at how officer-involved shootings are addressed in our city. I understand and appreciate the many challenges that face our city’s police officers. It’s very noble work. However, we need further examination and clarity in the laws that govern the use of deadly force by police officers.”
Gardner is also calling for an independent investigative body to work under the supervision of the Circuit Attorney that is solely dedicated to investigating the 25 cases that are under review by her office to ensure they are handled “fairly and objectively.”
The highly anticipated verdict caused for preparations to be made outside of the courthouse. Barricades were seen outside of the Carnahan Courthouse earlier in the month after activists warned of mass disruption if no conviction was given.
On September 5, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson released a video in which she said the community was ‘on edge’ ahead of the verdict. She also said she is aware there is a lot of anxiety and worry in the community but that people should not let that determine how they treat one another.
“Ask ourselves how we might feel if it were our son, daughter, mother, father, or friend at the center of this legal decision. Ask ourselves if we can turn this anxiety and distrust into something constructive,” the mayor said.
A day before the verdict was released, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens took steps to place the Missouri National Guard on standby. St. Louis City and County police also said they were beginning 12-hour shifts Friday morning.
Stockley was the first on-duty officer to be charged in a shooting case since 2000. He previously waived his right to a jury trial.