Jason Stockley, a white former police officer in St. Louis, was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of black motorist Anthony Lamar Smith on Friday. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson said in his ruling that he "in conscience" could not say that the state had proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Stockley had not acted in self-defense, CNN reported.
Stockley was not immediately prosecuted for the 2011 shooting death, which occurred after Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, attempted to pull over Smith’s vehicle following a suspected drug transaction at a restaurant. A chase ensued, ultimately resulting in a crash. Both officers then approached the vehicle with weapons drawn. Stockley fired at Smith, claiming that Smith was a reaching for a weapon. Stockley later entered the vehicle to allegedly "render [the weapon] safe" by taking out the ammunition. However, it was later determined that Stockely's DNA was the only DNA present on the gun he claimed belonged to Smith.
Stockley was eventually charged with first-degree murder in May 2016, after then-St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce cited new evidence in Smith's shooting death. During the stop, Stockley was heard saying he was "going to kill this motherfucker, don't you know it."
Current St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner expressed disappointment with Wilson's decision. "While officer-involved shootings are very hard to return a guilty verdict, I am confident that we presented sufficient evidence at a trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley was guilty of murder in the first degree," Gardner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday. Gardner, citing the 25 cases that are actively under her office’s review, has called for an independent investigative body to be dedicated to these investigations.
Al Watkins, the attorney for Smith's fiancée Christina Wilson, reminded citizens they have "a right to be mad" and to protest, but advised demonstrators to take a peaceful approach. "Exploit that right," Watkins said. "Don't compromise it. Stay peaceful."
Multiple businesses and establishments in and near downtown St. Louis closed early Friday in anticipation of the verdict, including the federal courthouse. Following the verdict, protesters took to the streets: