A former police officer charged with first-degree murder testified on his own behalf for approximately four hours on Tuesday.
Jason Stockley, 36, is charged with the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith in north St. Louis.
It followed a suspected drug deal involving Smith in a Church’s Chicken parking lot and a police pursuit that reached speeds of almost 90 miles per hour.
On the day of the deadly encounter, Stockley testified that he believed Smith was armed. He said when he and his partner first encountered him, his partner yelled “gun” after seeing a firearm on the passenger seat of Smith’s car.
Stockley testified he was struck by Smith's vehicle as Smith fled the scene. He said he believed Smith posed an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to him, his partner or the community.
During the police chase, Stockley testified he was in “fear” because of the dangerous circumstances and that he had lost a friend during a pursuit.
“It was a life or death situation,” Stockley told the court, adding that he had not made any prior decision to end Smith’s life.
However, Stockley admitted he can hear himself on dash-camera video recording during the chase saying he was going to “kill” Smith. Though, he said he can’t give any context to the comment because he doesn’t remember saying it.
Stockley testified that Smith’s “threat to society was so high, you have to do whatever you can to stop it.”
He said once the pursuit ended in a collision at W. Florissant and Acme, he went to the driver’s side window of Smith’s car and gave commands to “show him his hands.”
Stockley told the court Smith’s right hand was moving around the passenger seat area.
“His demeanor changed,” Stockley testified, arguing he believed Smith had located his firearm and intended to shoot.
That’s the moment he told the court he was “startled” and “scared” and fired a round of shots in succession. He denied firing any execution-style “kill shot” as prosecutors suggested.
Stockley defended his repeated trips between Smith’s car and his department SUV on the scene.
He said one trip was made to retrieve a Quick Clot kit to help stop any potential mass external bleeding. He said he placed it in his pocket and never used it because, upon visual inspection, Smith didn’t have a lot of blood outside his body.
Stockley also defended his actions of taking off his gloves on scene because he found them difficult to use when opening the kit and rummaging through his duty bag in the SUV.
Stockley described his emotional state at the time as “rattled” and “not a good human response.”
“I had just shot someone,” he said.
Stockley also defended entering Smith’s car to retrieve the firearm he believed was in there. “Who better than me to look in the car?” he said.
Stockley said the first time he touched the revolver found in Smith’s car was when he discovered it lodged between the passenger seat and center console. He said it was standard practice to immediately render it safe, which is why he emptied the cartridges.
Stockley admitted, though, he couldn’t physically see the gun before or at the time of the shooting. And he defended his use of deadly force, saying he “had to do what he had to do” and “would violate” any policy if it put his life in jeopardy.
Prosecutors maintained that Stockley instigated the police chase, decided he was going to kill Smith then carried out the murder 45 seconds after he’s caught on camera saying he was going to do so. One of the shots, they argue, came from within six inches away.
They also said Stockley planted the revolver in Smith’s car to cover his tracks, pointing out that only his DNA was on the gun.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors and the defense will give closing arguments Wednesday morning. Then, since this is a bench trial, the judge will begin deliberating the verdict.