Murder Trial Verdict Draws Violent Protests
by Staff Writer
Jason Stockley, former officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, was acquitted of murder charges in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Smith.
Stockley was charged with first-degree murder in May 2016. Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, instead opting for a bench trial. Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson oversaw this trial from Aug. 1 through Aug. 9. On Friday, Wilson made his decision, finding Stockley not guilty.
In anticipation of the verdict, the city placed barriers around the courthouse and asked people to remain calm.
Hundreds of people protesting the acquittal of a white former St. Louis police officer in the fatal shooting of black man marched for hours in mostly peaceful demonstrations, until a broken window at the mayor’s home and escalating tensions led riot police to lob tear gas to disperse the crowds.
For weeks, activists had been threatening civil disobedience if Jason Stockley were not convicted of murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith, prompting authorities to take precautions. With the large protests that followed the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson still fresh in everyone’s minds, barricades were erected around police headquarters and the courthouse, among other sites, in anticipation of the verdict.
Judge Wilson explained in his ruling that the prosecution did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, or even a lesser charge such as involuntary manslaughter.
The judge also doubted the prosecution’s claim the gun was planted and wrote, “Finally, the court observes, based on its nearly 30 years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
Smith fled from officers in a high speed chase following an alleged drug deal in December 2011. Stockley’s partner rammed Smith’s car and Stockley shot Smith five times with his service weapon.
“Missouri law requires that the trier of fact be ‘firmly convinced’ of the defendant’s guilt in order to convict,” Wilson wrote. “…The court, as the trier of fact, is simply not convinced of defendant’s guilt.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
Protesters began gathering downtown immediately after the verdict was announced Friday morning. The demonstrations were largely peaceful at first, but as the night went on, protesters seriously injured two police officers and vandalized buildings, including the home of the city mayor.
Gov. Eric Greitens praised law enforcement and peaceful protesters, but warned: “Violence will not be tolerated.”
“Unfortunately, we did have some people who decided to engage in acts of violence,” he said after meeting law enforcement officials in St. Louis. “Assaulting a law enforcement officer is not a peaceful protest. Breaking windows is not a peaceful protest. Destroying and vandalizing police cars is not free speech, and we are not going to tolerate it in the state of Missouri.”
Activists, with support from some of the city’s black clergy, had pledged disruptive protests ahead of Wilson’s verdict. Wilson addressed such statements in his order:
“A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.”
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