ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Nearly six years after he shot and killed Anthony Smith after a high-speed chase in north St. Louis, the bench trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley got underway in St. Louis Circuit Court Tuesday morning.
Judge Timothy Wilson, who will decide the case after Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, opened the proceedings by warning those in the packed courtroom against any comments or outbursts.
“The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus died earlier this year,” he said. “It will not be resurrected here.”
“Anthony Smith did not deserve to die on December 20, 2011,” said assistant prosecutor Aaron Levinson, “but Jason Stockley took his life and then tried to cover up his crime.”
Levinson told the judge that all Smith wanted to do after police cornered him in a Church’s Chicken parking lot was get away, and Stockley fired seven shots at him as he fled, even though “the danger was gone.”
“The bad, dangerous and deadly decisions Stockley made didn’t end there,” he said.
Levinson noted that no one had fired at Stockley, and moments later, when radioing for assistance, Stockley never said Smith had a gun. He argued that Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, could have stopped the chase at any time, but Stockley urged them to continue, at one point saying, “I’m going to kill this m***** f***** don’t you know it.”
After the accident that ended the chase on West Florissant Road, Levinson said Stockley went up to Smith’s car and opened fire, startling Bianchi.
He alleged that after the shooting, Stockley returned to his police vehicle and intentionally blocked the view of the dashboard camera while he reached into his duty bag. He said that while nothing can be seen in his hands, it appears Stockley slid something in his waistband.
The evidence to be presented, Levinson said, will show that a bag of heroin in Smith’s car did contain his DNA, but the gun recovered from his car, contained only Stockley’s DNA, including a spot of blood under a screw on the grip. And, he said, FBI tests show the final shot fired by Stockley, was a “kill shot,” fired from 6 inches away.
“He may have fled from the police,” Levinson said, “but he did not deserve to die. This was an execution.”
“You have to know the facts before you can distort them,” is how defense attorney Neil Bruntrager began his opening statements.
Bruntrager told Judge Wilson that experts will not back up the assertions made by Levinson. He called Smith, “a parole absconder who was going to do whatever he could not to go to jail.”
He said that when approached in the Church’s Chicken parking lot, Smith made every effort to hit Stockley, making the shots that were fired appropriate.
“The tape will show this is a violent encounter,” Bruntrager said, and that at the time, Stockley saw a silver revolver on the front seat of Smith’s car.
Bruntrager said by saying “shots fired” on the radio, Stockley told fellow officers all they needed to know. Noting garbled radio traffic on the dashcam video, Bruntrager said he disputes that Stockley threatened to kill Smith, but said he’d let Wilson decide when he hears it.
As opposed to helping the prosecution, Bruntrager said dashcam video from the police car and cell phone video from bystanders will exonerate his client.
He told the judge that witnesses will describe what appears to be a struggle between Smith and Stockley, who steps back as if startled before firing into the vehicle.
Bruntrager said Stockley repeatedly ordered Smith to show his hands, and waited 15 seconds for him to comply. But Smith reached for the gun, and Stockley opened fire.
As for why Stockley’s DNA was on the gun, Bruntrager said he had gone back into Smith’s vehicle to empty it – “rendering it safe” in police terminology – because a crowd had gathered and it had become a “chaotic” scene.
Noting that several officers had arrived on the scene, including Stockley’s supervising sergeant, Bruntrager said that if the revolver had been planted, all the officers would have had to be complicit.
“There’s no evidence of such,” he said.
“Jason Stockley did not execute Anthony Smith,” Bruntrager said. “He did not murder Anthony Smith.”