A judge has found former St. Louis cop Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a Black man killed following a police chase six years ago.
St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson announced the shocking verdict Friday, Sept. 15, acquitting Stockley of murder and armed criminal action in the shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The ex-officer shot Smith five times after a high-speed pursuit and crash in December 2011.
Prosecutors alleged Stockley planted a firearm in Smith’s crashed Buick after shooting him at close range while defense attorneys argued the then-officer was only defending himself because he thought the man had a gun. Stockley was also heard saying said he was gonna “kill this motherf-cker minutes” before fatally shooting Smith.
The verdict comes just days after activists and Black clergy members gathered to warn Wilson of potential unrest if he failed to convict Stockley, saying “the blood will be on your hands” if he didn’t. Leaders with the Ethical Society of Police, a Black police union, also encouraged the judge to find Stockley guilty of the young man’s murder.
Their heeds apparently fell on deaf ears.
“A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism,” Wilson said in his decision.
Protests immediately followed the judge’s announcement Friday, as demonstrators gathered downtown. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that protesters blocked a ramp to Interstate 64 but were blocked by police from entering the highway. That’s when they began marching to police headquarters.
“I think the verdict is disgusting,” said Damone Smith, an electrician headed to work when traffic was rerouted to the protest area. “I’m proud of these people protesting. If you look like me (African-American), then you feel like there is no other way to express yourself in the face of this kind of verdict. Time and time again, African-American men are killed by police and nobody is held accountable.”
Local leaders also weighed in on the judge’s ruling, including Gov. Eric Greitens, Mayor Lyda Kasew and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, who expressed disappointment with the decision.
“We know this verdict causes pain for many people,” Greitens said in a statement. “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.”
In a 30-page document, Wilson explained the reasoning behind his verdict.
“No one promised a rose garden, and this surely is not one,” he wrote. “This court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of [the] defendant’s guilt. Agonizingly, this court has pored over the evidence again and again.”
“This court, in conscience, cannot say that the state has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” he added.