A former St. Louis police officer has been acquitted of murder six years after he took the life of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. On Friday (Sept. 15), a judge found 36-year-old Jason Stockley, not guilty in the 2011 slaying of Smith, who was shot five times through the window of his car.
According to St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson, the court wasn’t “convinced” of Stockley’s guilt.
“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 the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Wilson wrote in his ruling adding that the court “agonizingly” poured over the evidence “again and again.”
Stockley was arrested and charged with Smith’s murder last year.
The confusing account of what led to Smith’s death surrounds a firearm which prosecutors argued Stockley planted in the victim’s car, as his DNA was found on the weapon and Smith’s was not, St. Louis Public Radio reports.
However, Stockley claimed that he shot Smith in self-defense following a short police pursuit after Smith was suspected of selling drugs in the parking lot of a Church’s chicken. Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, drove up behind Smith’s Buick, and a chase ensued that lasted around three minutes.
According to Wilson’s ruling, Smith “frantically” sped off hitting the marked police vehicle and another car. “Smith drove off the parking lot, striking the hand of Stockley, who had a gun drawn, and Smith sped away,” wrote Wilson. “Bianchi swung at the driver’s door of the Buick with his gun, breaking the window.”
Roughly “45 seconds” before the pursuit ended, dash cam footage recorded Stockley saying, “we’re killing this motherf*cker, don’t you know.”
Although Stockley testified that he did make the statements, Wilson says that the full “context” of his words were unclear. “People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations,” the judge concluded.
Bianchi did not testify in the trail.
Wilson also believes the revolver found in Smith’s car was too big to have been planted, and that Stockley didn’t act as though he “intentionally” killed Smith.
”The Court does not believe Stockley’s conduct immediately following the end of the pursuit is consistent with the conduct of a person intentionally killing another person unlawfully,” he wrote.
Smith’s airbag deployed following the deadly incident, blocking eyewitnesses and the police dash cam from recording all that transpired in and around the vehicle. But Wilson is apparently convinced that Smith had a gun because “an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
The case in one of the last that Wilson will rule over because he turns 70 in December, which is the mandatory retirement age for Missouri judges.
Meanwhile, protests are expected to continue following the verdict. Al Watkins. A lawyer for Smith’s young daughter told STL Public Radio, that he respects the court decision in spite of his disappointment over the “appalling” ruling.
“This one’s appalling given the amount of evidence involved,” Watkins said. “You don’t get video and audio of a guy with a badge saying in the minutes preceding his shooting of somebody ‘We’re gonna kill this [motherf*cker], don’t you know.'”
Stockley was the first officer in the St. Louis area since 2005 to be charged in an officer-involved shooting while on duty. He left the police department in 2013.