Today is Friday and by all intents and purposes, those of us in the working world are looking forward to the coming weekend. This week, though, instead of anticipating good things of the weekend, many of us are anticipating the harsh realities of what may occur. If you live in the St. Louis area, you, no doubt, are aware of the Jason Stockley trial. If you aren’t, really short, Jason is a white City of St. Louis Police officer who, in 2011, shot and killed a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, after an attempt to investigate a possible drug transaction and a high speed chase.
Rumor has it, and it seems to be substantiated by the massing of National Guardsmen at the Jefferson Barracks Armory and most St. Louis Metropolitan Law Enforcement agencies being put on alert, the Judge’s verdict is due out today. Some members of the black clergy have warned the Judge that should his verdict be “not guilty” that “Social unrest is bound to occur. Any decision rendered by you other than a guilty verdict will make you liable for any ensuing unrest or acts of aggression. In biblical terms, “The blood will be on your hands.” I can’t imagine that ever before has a group of individuals so openly attempted to coerce a judge. And, should Stockley be found guilty, they have created tremendous grounds for appeal. What a world we live in.
There are, of course, two sides to every argument and more than two sides to an opinion. Most of us only know what the media is reporting and many, many times, that reporting is biased by whatever slant they wish to put on the event and what sells the most. The old adage, “if it bleeds, it leads” is true. But maybe it would be more succinctly put as “if it inflames, it leads”.
As I’m typing this, I’m alerted to the fact that the Judge has ruled in this case…not guilty on all counts. The black clergy, in their letter to Judge Timothy Wilson stated “Therefore, led by our faith, we the undersigned, lift our collective voices to God, our creator, asking and expecting the creator to hear the cries for justice. We pray. We ask the Creator to move upon your just heart and reasonable mind to respond, with justice, to that which is fair, decent, and just. We pray…We ask the Creator to use this hour to help move this family and the community toward healing, reconciliation, and hope with the guilty verdict in the case against Jason Stockley. We pray…” My thought, of course, after reading this, is that I was taught that God answers prayers “yes”, “no” and “wait”. I’ve prayed many, many times for things, but they were not all answered in the way I would have liked. If they were, my loved ones would still be with me today. I believe God answered their prayer for justice, they just won’t like the answer.
And now I pray. I don’t very often actually get down on my knees to pray. I guess because that’s not something that was ever done in my home. We prayed in our bed and at the table. But today, I did get down on my knees and prayed that God would place his loving hands over all those men and women who will have to meet the opposition, who have volunteered to stand between the populace and the violence. I pray there is no loss of life; that there is not a repeat of Ferguson, where thugs and miscreants and felons were allowed to run amuk looting and burning.
Back to what I originally writing about. Up until a couple days ago, the only thing I knew about the Stockley trial was what I saw and heard on television. And based upon the facts that were put forth, I felt fairly certain that Stockley would be convicted of murder. It was reported that Stockley was recorded on his in-car dash cam saying “I’m going to kill the motherfucker” shortly before he actually did shoot and kill Anthony Smith. Additionally, it was reported that only Stockley’s DNA was found on the gun inside Smith’s car and that Stockley had been seen on video going several times between his patrol car and Smith’s vehicle. Stockley chose to have a bench trial; the type of trial that worked well for some of the police defendants in Baltimore. I am undeniably and unashamedly pro-police. But that being said, no one, not ever, should be allowed to get away with killing another person unless they are acting in self-defense or defense of another. The state even goes further saying you can use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon if that person has committed a violent felony and there is likelihood that he/she would do it again.
Judge Timothy Wilson ordered both the Prosecution and Defense to provide him with Findings prior to him beginning his deliberations. Fox2 News placed copies of these pleadings on line and this was the first opportunity I had to read what was the defense’s take on the case.
As in any criminal case, there are elements of the law which the Prosecution must prove and in this case, there were three: that Jason Stockley 1) knowingly 2)causes the death of another person and 3) after deliberation on the matter.
In the defense’s pleadings it sheds a different light on what I had heard to date. Yes, there was an in-car dash cam audio, that said either “we” or “I” “am going to kill that mother fucker”; however what is said both before and after that statement is too garbled to decipher. Stockley on the stand testified that he did not remember making that statement and the judge.
The Prosecution makes several claims that the evidence does not substantiate. Their main theme was that Stockley planted the gun in Smith’s car because no one’s DNA was found on the gun other than Stockley’s. The defense’s expert witnesses testified that Stockley’s DNA was the only DNA found on the gun, but that did not mean that no one else handled it. The Prosecution contended that there were five shots fired, four in rapid succession and one a short time later which they referred to as the “kill shot”. No one who testified said they heard any time lag between the fourth and fifth shot. The prosecution based this theory on a “puff of smoke” seen on a video; however, there was no “puff of smoke” seen after the first four shots. The prosecution contended that Stockley planted the gun in Smith’s car; however, there is nothing captured on video, either from the patrol car’s dash cam or the independent witness who supplied a video tape or the video surveillance tape from a local restaurant, to show that Stockley, who wasn’t wear a coat or a pair of pants with cargo pockets, had another gun on his person or in his hands.
The Judge in his verdict states “No one promised a rose garden, and this surely is not one. Missouri Law requires that the trier of fact be “firmly convinced” of the defendant’s guilt in order to convict….This Court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt. Agonizingly, this Court has poured over the evidence again and again. This Court has viewed the video evidence from the restaurant’s surveillance camera, the cameras in the police vehicle, and the cell phone video by the lay witness, over and over again-innumerable times. 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 defendant did not act in self-defense….Wherefore, it is ordered, adjudged and decreed that the State has failed in its burden of proof and the court finds that defendant is not guilty on both charges in this case, murder first degree and armed criminal action.”
So now we sit and wait, anticipate and pray. Not another Ferguson, Lord