A St. Louis police officer is free after a judge acquitted him of first-degree murder charges.
Jason Stockley was charged in the 2011 shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. Smith, who was African-American, tried to evade the officer during a high-speed chase and, when Stockley apprehended him, he claimed that he felt he was in imminent danger and shot the suspect five times.
Prosecutors say Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after the confrontation and a dashcam video from the scene appears to show the officer reaching in to grab a weapon. Judge Timothy Wilson wrote that “this court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” the Associated Press reports.
The prosecutor said that she is disappointed but recognized that officer-shooting cases are especially difficult. She stated, “I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith.”
If he had been convicted on the charges, the 36-year-old former policeman could have faced life in prison without parole. He left the force in 2013 and has since moved to Houston, Texas.
Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, though prosecutors pushed for it. However, without a jury, the decision was left solely to Judge Wilson.
Smith’s death occurred three years before the shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. The state did not initially prosecute Stockley but, in the aftermath of Ferguson, charges were pressed in May 2016. In 2013, the St. Louis police board settled a wrongful death suit with Smith’s family for $900,000, CNN reported.