A judge found former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder on Friday in the death of a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011.
“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 documents after many weeks of deliberation.
Jason Stockley shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith five times. The officer said he saw Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger, but prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after he shot him.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele said during the trial that police dashcam video of the chase captured Stockley saying he was “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, the officer fatally shot Smith. Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” while he was in the middle of a dangerous police pursuit.
Stockley, 36, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole. He left the St. Louis’ police force in 2013 and now lives in Houston.
According to the court document, “the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley did not act in self-defense.”
Stockley’s verdict was handed down by Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, who oversaw the bench trial. Stockley chose his case to be heard by a judge rather than a jury, despite objections from prosecutors.
Prior to the verdict, activists in St. Louis threatened civil disobedience if Stockley were acquitted, including threats to shut down highways. Amid the growing tensions, Mayor Lyda Krewson and an attorney for Smith’s fiance made public appeals, asking residents to remain calm in the face of predicted riots. Gov. Eric Greitens met with and assured black faith leaders that peaceful protesters’ rights would be protected, but later stressed that violence wouldn’t be tolerated.
Barricades went up on Aug. 28 around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held, and other sites of recent or potential protests. Police said they were being proactive to ensure safety “due to recent events around the country.”
St. Louis has a history of racial unrest, recalling the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Protests, some of them violent, erupted after the black 18-year-old was killed by a white police officer in self-defense. The officer wasn’t charged but later resigned.
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St. Louis ‘on edge’ waiting for riots to break out tomorrow