Guilty: Jury convicts white Alabama police officer in killing of unarmed black man
An Alabama jury on Friday found a white police officer guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in 2016.
Jurors returned the verdict against Montgomery police officer Aaron Cody Smith on the lesser charge for the shooting death of 58-year-old Gregory Gunn, according to reports from news outlets. Prosecutors had charged Smith with murder.
Smith shot and killed Gunn after he fled during a pat-down. The officer had stopped Gunn for a random stop and frisk as Gunn was walking home.
Defense lawyers maintained that Smith fired in self-defense because Gunn was grabbing a painter’s pole from a porch, but prosecutors said Gunn was never a threat to the officer. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning the verdict.
The shooting of the unarmed black man by a white police officer caused protests in Alabama’s capital city. Friends said Gunn was walking home from a weekly card game to the house he shared with his mother when Smith stopped him. He died yards from his home.
During the trial, prosecutors described Smith, 26, as a “bully with a badge” and suggested the crime scene contradicted Smith’s version that Gunn was attacking him with the metal pole.
District Attorney Daryl Bailey told jurors in closing arguments that a crime scene photo shows Gunn dead on the ground with a baseball hat still clenched in one hand, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
“How in the world do you think he’s picking up this paint roller and doing all this swinging and all this threatening, and still holding his baseball hat in his hand?” Bailey asked.
The defense described Smith as a dutiful, third-generation officer who had been told to keep a close watch on patrol because of a rash of burglaries, and that Gunn, who had cocaine in his system, fought with Smith.
Smith, who took the stand during the trial, stood during much of his testimony as he demonstrated his initial stop with defense attorney Mickey McDermott. Smith said he used a Taser and baton first and said he believed he had a right to fire his weapon when Gunn picked up the pole, WSFA reported.
“I had to stop him,” Smith said. “If he’s brave enough to kill a uniformed police officer — if he takes me out he’s got access to all my weapons on my belt, a running police Tahoe down the street with an AR-15 (semi-automatic rifle) inside.”
The trial was moved from Montgomery to the southeast Alabama town of Ozark, about 85 miles away, because of publicity in the capital city.
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