ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former St. Louis police officer’s murder trial that begins this week is expected to hinge on videos and DNA evidence that have raised questions about the officer’s actions after the shooting and the weapon recovered by police.
Jason Stockley, who’s white, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black 24-year-old. Charges were filed last year after then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce cited unspecified new evidence. The trial, the latest of several across the U.S. involving the fatal police shootings of black men, begins Tuesday and is expected to last two weeks.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Smith was shot following a police chase during a drug investigation. Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson has ordered lawyers and witnesses not to discuss the case, but evidence will certainly include video , both from police and from a bystander.
A key issue is a .38-caliber Taurus revolver police said was found in Smith’s car. Police reports say Stockley’s DNA — but not Smith’s — was on the gun. Stockley told investigators he unloaded the revolver as a safety precaution after the shooting.
Supporters of Smith have accused the 36-year-old Stockley of planting the gun.
The shooting happened Dec. 20, 2011. Stockley and his partner spotted Smith in a suspected drug transaction in a fast food parking lot, and that led to a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) chase that ended with Smith’s car crashing.
Police dashboard recordings and two videos from a restaurant show the officers pulled behind Smith’s rented silver Buick. As they got out, Smith backed into the police SUV and sped past Stockley, who fired several shots.
Another chase began. Stockley reported shots being fired and said “Going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it,” according to court records.
The officers eventually rammed their sport utility vehicle into the back of Smith’s car, causing its air bags to deploy. The officers got out, and Stockley fired several shots into the car.
The police video from after the shooting shows Stockley going into the back of his police SUV and appearing to dig through a duffel bag. He doesn’t appear to have anything in his hands when getting out of the SUV and returning to Smith’s car. The police video then stops.
Stockley’s lawyer has said Stockley was looking for a “clot pack” to stop Smith’s bleeding.
Video from a bystander shows Stockley later climbing into the driver’s seat of Smith’s car immediately after officers pulled Smith out.
According to police reports, Stockley told internal investigators and his sergeant that he believed Smith was reaching for a revolver after being ordered to show his hands.
Officers were acquitted in recent police shooting trials in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. A case in Ohio twice ended with hung juries, and prosecutors have decided not to seek a third trial.
Stockley has waived his right to a jury trial, so his case will be decided by Judge Wilson, who must determine whether Stockley feared for his life and was justifiably defending himself in killing Smith. In addition to ordering lawyers and witnesses not to discuss the case, Wilson has barred cameras and electronics from the courtroom.
“This is not an easy case,” Wilson wrote in his July 24 order granting a bench trial, which prosecutors opposed. “Whatever the ultimate outcome, it likely will be melancholy.”