OZARK, Ala. — Montgomery, Alabama Police Officer Aaron C. Smith is guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Greg Gunn, a jury found Friday.
Smith faced murder charges in the shooting death of Gunn, who Smith chased, tased and beat ina west Montgomery neighborhood in the early hours of Feb. 25, 2016. The jury was also instructed to consider a lesser manslaughter charge.
Smith sat behind a leather-bound Bible at the defense table as members of the jury, who deliberated for about two hours, were led into the courtroom. Family and supporters of Smith began sobbing as the jury was polled. More than a dozen Gunn family members and supporters stood throughout the reading of the verdict until the jury was led out.
Smith was immediately taken into custody. Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said his office will seek the maximum penalty for the manslaughter charge, 20 years, and will not acquiesce to bond in the case.
"He needs to be in the county jail until he goes to prison, just like everybody else," Bailey said.
Prosecutors argued Smith, with no legal justification, escalated a consensual stop with Gunn to deadly force, shooting and killing the 58-year-old just feet away from the home he lived in with his mother.
Smith's defense argued Smith feared for his life as a solo, young officer in a "high-crime" area, and that Gunn armed himself with a paint pole from a neighbor's porch, leading Smith to shoot him seven times.
Eighty-two miles southeast of the spot where Gunn died, jurors on Monday entered a county courthouse.
Smith’s defense successfully secured a venue change to rural Dale County, significantly smaller and less racially diverse than Montgomery County, and where a majority white, male jury was chosen Monday.
"They brought this case to a very conservative county expecting a very different outcome," Franklin Gunn, Greg Gunn's brother, said after the verdict came down. "But I believe we have seen the best of Alabama today. One bad apple in a bunch has been weeded out. I believe the state of Alabama, the city of Montgomery, has shown that we are strong. We won’t let anyone, with their views or actions, hamper forward progress for the state."
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Two families awaited the verdict on Friday: One black and one white, both grounded in law enforcement — Gunn's father one of Montgomery's first black cops, and later a prison guard, while Smith is third-generation law enforcement — and separated by the the Dale County courtroom's center aisle. Tears flowed on both sides of the aisle during the week, as Smith was cross-examined and as photos of Gunn's bloodied body were shown to the jury.
When and where Gunn was shot
Gunn died on the shooting scene, lying in the grass outside his next door neighbor's home in a residential neighborhood in west Montgomery.
He was struck by five bullets, a medical expert testified. Three bullets struck the victim in his chest, one passing through a lung and stopping near his heart. The second bullet passed through his left lung and struck his liver while the third ruptured Gunn's liver, stomach and bowels.
At around 3:20 on the morning of Feb. 25, 2016, Smith stopped Gunn in his Mobile Heights neighborhood, where the 58-year-old was walking home from a card game. Smith asked Gunn to submit to a random stop-and-frisk, one which prosecutors argued Smith had no legal basis to conduct and Gunn had no obligation to submit to.
Midway through the pat-down, Gunn fled from Smith who chased, tased and beat Gunn before shooting at him seven times.
Some of the story still remains unclear
What happened between Smith's patrol car and the spot where Gunn would die is unclear: Smith failed to turn on his body or dash camera, and he has given multiple conflicting accounts of why he gave chase and escalated the incident to lethal force. Smith first said Gunn struck him with a paint pole, and that he and Gunn wrestled on the ground. Later, Smith said Gunn picked the pole up and raised it as if to strike him. Later, Gunn was picking up the pole and turning when Smith shot.
His defense said the different accounts were trauma-induced.
"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."
Deputy District Attorney Scott Green described the officer as the aggressor in the incident, not Gunn.
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"Even today, (Smith) said the guy kind of bumped up against him a little bit, and it was AC Smith who pushed him back against the car, forcefully. It wasn’t Greg Gunn," Green said. "He’s not gonna be disrespected on the street. So, he slings him back up against the car. He’s the one who started all this."
Throughout the ups and downs of the case, Smith, now 26, has remained relatively obscure. He is still employed by the Montgomery Police Department, paid but on administrative leave.
The defense argued Gunn was a "criminal," whose autopsy showed cocaine was in his system at the time of his death, a fact undisputed by prosecutors. Defense attorney Mickey McDermott said Smith didn't have the right to use lethal force until Gunn picked up a metal paint pole on his neighbor's porch, allegedly "arming himself" against the officer.
Smith has not spoken publicly about the shooting, apart from court testimony hearings where he said he felt he did "everything right" by stopping Gunn.
"That's what hurts most," Gunn-Powell, Greg Gunn's niece, said. "The fact that when something like this takes place and it seems like somebody doesn't have any remorse. I haven't seen any remorse for what has been done. A choice was made. That choice wasn't the right choice. And even if it was a mistake, at some point you need to say that you're sorry for what you've done. That's justice as well."
Follow Melissa Brown on Twitter: @itsmelissabrown
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama cop AC Smith guilty of manslaughter for Greg Gunn killing