Former St. Louis cop Jason Stockley was found not guilty by Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson in the killing of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, an unarmed black man, following a police chase that ended in the death of Smith, whom the former officer claimed had a gun (video below).
The gun in question, as reported by The Washington Post, was recovered by investigators but the only DNA found on the firearm by prosecutors belonged to Stockley.
Smith was reportedly the passenger in a high-speed chase in December 2011, not the man driving the vehicle. According to the probable cause statement, Stockley was heard saying, "... going to kill this motherf**ker, don't you know it," and was heard telling another officer to drive into Smith's slowing car -- in what was considered dangerous driving conditions due to the snow.
The court document, submitted by the St. Louis circuit attorney, said Stockley then approached Smith's window and fired five times into the car, hitting Smith "with each shot" and killing him, as reported by The Washington Post.
"This court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense," Wilson wrote in the decision.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said to the Chicago Tribune that she was disappointed.
"While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt" that Stockley intended to kill Smith, Gardner said in a written statement, according to the Chicago Tribune.
According to KTVI, government buildings, schools and events will be closed or halted for the day due the city expecting unrest in response to the decision.
The Eagleton Federal Courthouse, where the controversial decision was made, will be closed along with several schools, including St. Mary's High School, Preclarus Master Academy, and others. The Alzheimer's Walk has cancelled their event for the time being, as they were informed that police personnel and first responders will be limited.
Wilson turns 70 in December, the mandatory retirement age for Missouri judges, which means his ruling in Stockley's first-degree murder trial will be among his final rulings from the bench, as reported by the St. Louis Post.
“For the rest of his life, including his obit, this is the one case he’s going to be remembered for,” said Mike Wolff, a former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice and former dean of St. Louis University’s law school.
Following the decision, hundreds of protesters have filled the streets of St. Louis to voice their anger, reports Reuters.
“I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m mad,” Reverend Clinton Stancil of the Wayman AME Church in St. Louis said via telephone to Reuters. “We haven’t made any progress since Ferguson, that’s clear. Cops can still kill us with impunity.”
With the National Guard on standby in case of violence, authorities are allowing protesters to march peacefully despite the history of racial divides since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Sources: Stockley Verdict, Official Complaint by Circuit Attorney, Chicago Tribune, KTVI, The Washington Post, Reuters, St. Louis Post / Featured Image: TJR/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Harris County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters/File Photo, Lawrence Bryant/Reuters