Former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley found not guilty in murder case

ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis Circuit judge found Jason Stockley not guilty of killing Anthony Lamar Smith.

Stockley fatally shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011 after a three-mile police chase through city streets. The incident started as a police stop following a reported drug sale. Surveillance video showed officers block Smith in, who then backed his vehicle into a police car as the officers approached. Stockley ran after the suspect’s car, firing seven shots with his service pistol.

The prosecution called 17 witnesses during the five-day trial.  Stockley testified at his own trial and the defense presented only one other witness..

In dash cam video obtained by Fox 2 News, you can see Stockley exit the patrol car with his personal AK-47 style rifle.  It's a violation of St. Louis police policy to carry a personal weapon.

Stockley was questioned why he had his personal rifle with him during the trial. He said he didn’t fire it that day, but carried it knowing he was violating department policy because he thought his life and the lives of his fellow officers depended on it.

In May 2016, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office charged Stockley with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

This is the full text of the Judge's decision:

A release from the Circuit Attorney of St. Louis' office says that:

The Judge’s Options:

In July, Judge Wilson granted Jason Stockley’s request for waiver of a jury trial. Therefore, the judge became the finder of fact in this matter, and he made the decision on whether or not Jason Stockley violated Missouri law when he shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith. Under Missouri law, the judge could have considered finding Stockley guilty of Murder in the First Degree as charged or lessor crimes such as Murder in the Second Degree or Voluntary Manslaughter.

Overcoming the Self-Defense Burden:

Overcoming the burden of self-defense of a police officer is a challenging task. Missouri laws of self-defense and defense of others are most pertinent to this particular set of facts and circumstances. Missouri law requires that prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley was NOT acting in self-defense or the defense of others when he killed Smith. The self-defense claim applies to both citizens and police officers.

In addition, state law allows police officers to act based on their perceptions of danger (a reasonable person’s perception). Prosecutors also reviewed whether or not the officers had the ability to use deadly force in making an arrest. Under Missouri law, police officers may use deadly force only to make an arrest when they reasonably believe both that deadly force is necessary to make the arrest and when they also reasonably believe that the person being arrested may endanger life or risk inflicting serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.

The Evidence Prosecutors Presented at Trial:

The fact that Anthony Smith was shot and killed by Stockley is not in dispute. What prosecutors worked to do was present evidence in court that they believe proved Stockley violated Missouri law when he shot Smith and then planted a gun in Smith’s car to justify the killing."

More information from the Circuit Attorney's office:

Cool Reflection/Deliberation

Prosecutors charged Stockley with Murder in the First Degree, which requires the State of Missouri to prove that a defendant knowingly caused the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter. Deliberation means cool reflection for any length of time no matter how brief.. Evidence of deliberation was presented at trial through Stockley’s own statement. At 12:41:30 in the dash camera video, Stockley tells Bianchi “We’re killing this mother****, don’t you know.” Forty-five seconds later, he fatally shot Smith.

Stockley’s Statements Not Corroborated by Other Evidence

Prosecutors believe Stockley’s claim that Smith had a gun and was reaching for it at the time of the shooting was not corroborated by any of the videos or scientific evidence, nor by the actions and reactions of his partner. Prosecutors presented at trial that the actions of his partner were in stark contradiction to Stockley’s own words and claims of self-defense.

Prosecutors concluded that the credibility and reasonableness of Stockley’s actions be judged through the simultaneous actions of his partner Officer Bianchi.  Bianchi never fired his weapon. Bianci holstered his weapon while standing by the driver’s side of Smith’s car at the fast food restaurant where Stockley claims Bianchi yelled gun.  Bianchi approached Smith’s car after the crash without his weapon drawn.

Stockley’s testimony about seeing Smith with a gun in his right hand pointed at him while in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant is refuted by the physical evidence. Smith’s Buick had a gear shift that had to be operated with the right hand. A button on the back of the gear shift had to be held to shift gears. In order to drive the car forward out of the parking lot after reversing, Smith would have had to have held the gear shift with his right hand and steering wheel with his left hand. As Smith quickly accelerated, there would not have been time for him to then grab a firearm and point it at Stockley.

Stockley’s DNA profile was on every weapon he touched. Anthony Smith’s DNA was not on any weapon.

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The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department first requested the U.S. Attorney’s Office review the case in 2012. Evidence was gathered, but no charges were filed. In March 2016, SLMPD Internal Affairs investigators contacted the Circuit Attorney’s Office to review the matter, with additional evidence developed through both the department and the FBI.

Closing arguments were heard August 9. At the time, the judge presiding over the case said he wouldn’t render a verdict until at least August 18.

Stockley, who was only one of two people to take the stand for the defense, said he was justified using deadly force because Smith's car hit him. The former officer said he heard his partner yelling “gun” and then shattering Smith's window before the pursuit.

During the subsequent pursuit, Stockley acknowledged under cross-examination that it sounded like he was "going to kill that (expletive).” Stockley said he didn’t remember saying it and could not explain why.

About 30 seconds later, Stockley testified that he ordered his partner to hit Smith's car and end the pursuit because the suspect had just driven into oncoming traffic and threatened other people. The chase ended at W. Florissant and Acme avenues.

Stockley approached Smith’s car on the driver’s side and shot five times into the car, striking Smith with each shot. He died as a result of the gunshot wounds.

Stockley said he believed the suspect had reached his gun and the officer said he was in such fear for his life he was backing up while shooting him.

In closing remarks, Steele said it was obvious Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s vehicle because the former officer’s DNA was on it.

Video shows Stockley appeared to have free reign of the scene and the suspect's vehicle while as many as ten officers stood nearby. During a play by play of the video in court, two officers described seeing Stockley go into the suspect’s car four times. One officer acknowledged to the prosecutor he thought that was strange.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Neil Bruntrager argued the lack of evidence wasn’t evidence. Bruntrager said there was no visual evidence of Stockley with the gun prosecutors allege he planted.

The defense pointed to the dash cam video as proof Stockley’s life was in danger. Bruntrager said he was justified to use lethal force before the chase when the suspect’s car was a deadly weapon. He argued Stockley was also justified at the end of the pursuit when it took 15 seconds for him the fire and he fired after being startled and stepping back.