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Not Guilty Verdict In Jason Stockley Case

Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley has been found not guilty of First Degree Murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Former St. Louis city police officer Jason Stockley has been found not guilty of First Degree Murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the verdict, which was announced Friday morning.

Stockley shot Smith following a high-speed chase in 2011. Stockley said he saw Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger, but prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith's car after he shot him.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson made the following statement on the verdict:

"My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Anthony Lamar Smith, our police, judge, prosecutor, our citizens who find no comfort or justice, and everyone involved in this difficult case. I am appalled at what happened to Anthony Lamar Smith. I am sobered by this outcome.

Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle. I encourage St. Louisans to show each other compassion, to recognize that we all have different experiences and backgrounds and that we all come to this with real feelings and experiences. We are all St. Louisans. We rise and fall together.

As mayor, I will continue my work to create a more equitable community. and do everything possible to keep all St. Louisans safe.”

Stockley, 36, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole. He left St. Louis' police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.

It is unusual for officers to be charged with killing suspects while on duty, and few officers have been convicted in such deaths. Stockley's verdict was handed down by Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, who oversaw the bench trial. Stockley requested that the case be heard by a judge rather than a jury despite objections from prosecutors.

Ahead of the verdict, activists in St. Louis threatened civil disobedience if Stockley were acquitted, including possible efforts to shut down highways. Amid the growing uneasiness, the mayor and an attorney for Smith's fiance publicly urged for calm. Gov. Eric Greitens met with and assured black faith leaders that peaceful protesters' rights would be protected, but later stressed that violence wouldn't be tolerated.

Barricades went up on Aug. 28 around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held, and other sites of recent or potential protests. Police said they were being proactive to ensure safety "due to recent events around the country."

The St. Louis area has a history of unrest in such cases, including after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Protests, some of them violent, erupted after the black 18-year-old, who was unarmed, was killed by a white police officer. The officer wasn't charged but later resigned.

In Smith's case, the encounter began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot after seeing what appeared to be a drug deal. Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled "gun!" as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.

Stockley's attorney, Neil Bruntrager, argued that Smith, a parole violator with previous convictions for gun and drug crimes, tried to run over the two officers. Stockley fired seven shots as Smith sped away. A chase ensued.

At the end of the chase, Stockley opened fire only when Smith, still in his car, refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat "in the area where the gun was," Bruntrager said. Stockley said he climbed into Smith's car and found a revolver stuffed between the center console and passenger seat.

Interim St. Louis Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole issued the following statement after the verdict was released:

"Throughout the investigation, our Department fully cooperated with both state and federal authorities as they examined the facts of the case. Judge Wilson rendered his ruling and as citizens of this community we must respect the judicial process.

While we know emotions are running high, our number one priority is protecting and serving our citizens. We ask that citizens who choose to demonstrate, do so peacefully.

We are committed to ensuring every citizen’s First Amendment rights, however, we are equally committed to enforcing the laws of our city while upholding our core values of service, integrity, leadership and fair treatment to all. We will continue our mission to strengthen community relationships and implement meaningful reforms that build trust among the citizens we serve."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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