Verdict seen Friday in murder trial of St. Louis police officer

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – A Missouri judge on Friday is expected to release his verdict in the case of a former St. Louis police officer charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of a black man after a car chase, according to law enforcement sources.

Jason Stockley, 36, who is white, was arrested in May 2016 and charged with first-degree murder. Stockley was accused of intentionally killing Anthony Lamar Smith and planting a gun in his car. Stockley testified he acted in self-defense.

Local law enforcement officials, who asked not to be named, expected Judge Timothy Wilson’s ruling sometime Friday. The wait has left St. Louis on edge.

Activists have promised major demonstrations if Stockley is acquitted. Ahead of the verdict, city officials erected barricades outside courthouses and the police station. Missouri Governor Eric Greitens on Thursday put the National Guard on standby.

U.S. police have come under heightened scrutiny after killings of numerous unarmed black people in recent years triggered widespread protests.

Officials fear a repeat of the violent protests and racial tensions that followed the 2014 fatal shooting by police of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, just outside St. Louis.

FILE PHOTO: Jason Stockley, an ex-St.Louis police officer pictured in this police handout photo obtained by Reuters August 10, 2017. Harris County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Authorities say Smith, 24, tried to flee from Stockley on Dec. 20, 2011. During a pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video that he was going to kill Smith, prosecutors said.

Stockley, a passenger in the vehicle with his personal AK-47 in one hand and department-issued weapon in the other, shot at Smith’s car, St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Susan Ryan and charging documents said. Stockley and his partner chased Smith at speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour, the documents said.

Smith’s car began slowing to a stop when Stockley directed his partner to smash into Smith’s vehicle, court documents said. The driver slammed the police vehicle into Smith’s car and then Stockley approached the driver’s side and shot Smith five times.

Stockley shot in self-defense, his lawyers said. But prosecutors said the only gun recovered from the scene had only Stockley’s DNA on it.

Stockley, who maintained his innocence, waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide. He left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013, and additional evidence led to his arrest last year.

Smith’s family in 2013 settled a lawsuit filed against the city for $900,000, the family’s lawyer Albert Watkins said.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by David Gregorio

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