Jury set to decide fate of Alabama cop charged with murder

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, November 21, 2019

An Alabama jury is expected to begin deliberations Friday in the trial of a white police officer charged with killing an unarmed black man in 2016.

Testimony in the murder trial concluded Thursday with the officer taking the stand to describe the shooting and prosecutors and a defense lawyer giving diverging descriptions of the fatal encounter, news outlets reported.

Montgomery Officer Aaron Cody Smith fatally shot 58-year-old Gregory Gunn after Smith stopped Gunn as he was walking home for a stop-and-frisk and Gunn ran. The defense maintains 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 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 he was stopped by Smith.

WSFA reported that Smith, 26, testified he was acting in self-defense and believed he had a right to fire his weapon. Smith stood during much of his testimony as he demonstrated his initial stop with defense attorney Mickey McDermott.

“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.”

Prosecutors noted that Smith gave different versions of the shooting in earlier interviews.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that prosecutor Scott Green asked about Smith’s conflicting statements during crossexamination.

“Are you going to remember something different later? This afternoon? When does this jury get to rely on what you’re saying to be true?” Green said.

Smith testified Thursday that his memory of the shooting has varied and he is still remembering new things.

“I don’t know exactly the way the anatomy of my brain works, but I was in a traumatic incident and it affected me immediately after the shooting,” Smith said. “I dream about it at night. I wake up, and it’s the first thing I think about in the morning when I wake up. As time goes on, new details come up.”

Prosecutors in closing arguments called Smith a “bully with a badge” and suggested the crime scene contradicts Smith’s versions of events.

District Attorney Daryl Bailey said a crime scene photo shows Gunn dead on the ground with a baseball hat still clenched in one hand.

“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 trial was moved from Montgomery to the southeast Alabama town of Ozark, about 85 miles away, because of publicity in the capital.