ST. LOUIS (CN) – Fearing a repeat of protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, three years ago sparked by the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer, St. Louis officials prepared Thursday for the following day’s verdict in the murder trial of another white officer who killed a black motorist six years ago.
Tensions rose Thursday in a city that has been on edge for more than a month as news broke that a verdict in the Jason Stockley murder trial will be delivered Friday.
Stockley, a 36-year-old former St. Louis police officer who is white, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American, following a police chase after a suspected drug deal.
According to a probable cause statement attached to the first-degree murder charge, Stockley shot into Smith’s car in north St. Louis on Dec. 20, 2011, then pursued him at more than 80 miles per hour.
“During the pursuit, the defendant is heard saying ‘going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,’” according to the statement.
Smith was shot five times – in the neck, upper chest and forearm and twice in his left flank.
Prosecutors claimed that Stockley had fired his “kill shot” at Smith from just 6 inches away and then planted a revolver in Smith’s car to justify the shooting. Smith had previously been convicted of gun and drug crimes.
Stockley’s DNA, not Smith’s, was found on the revolver discovered in Smith car, according to police reports. The DNA was located under a screw on the gun’s handle.
Stockley told investigators he had unloaded the revolver as a safety precaution, and his attorneys argued that action could have transferred his DNA to the gun.
He waived his right to a bench trial, leaving the decision solely in St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson’s hands. The trial ended Aug. 9, leaving a metropolitan area still shaken by the Ferguson turmoil preparing for the worst.
With over a month between the trial and the verdict, activist groups have vowed to protest if Stockley is found not guilty.
They said their focus would be on disruption, not destruction, and stated two main targets could be St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and Lambert International Airport. The Cardinals start a 10-day road trip on Friday when the verdict will be handed down.
While the activists are trying to focus on disruption, local officials are preparing for possible violence, especially if Stockley is acquitted.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, activated the National Guard on Thursday to provide support. St. Louis police have also gone on 12-hour shifts and the city courts will be closed Friday, in addition to the Eastern Missouri federal court.
Earlier this week, a group of African-American clergy members sent a letter to Judge Wilson stating that, “The blood will be on your hands” if Stockley is acquitted.
Other activists had an even harsher tone on social media.
“If #stl don’t convict #JasonStockley I hope they burn this bitch down…….#AbuseOfPower #KillersWithABadge,” @snapper1978 wrote on Twitter.
And @bassem_masri tweeted, “Well this is Saint Louis we don’t mess around…if #JasonStockley is found not guilty riots will erupt.”
On Thursday, Albert Watkins, an attorney representing Smith’s family, issued a statement urging calm after the verdict is announced.
“Lady Justice can be a jealous mistress, one requiring patience and attention,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome, the progress since Ferguson, while cumbersome and filled with issues, cannot be denied. Its continued progress should not be thwarted by reckless abandon. For the sake of a child and the legacy of the all too short life of Mr. Smith, calm and respect should prevail.”
In late 2014, dozens of businesses in Ferguson burned at the hands of protesters after a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.