OZARK, Ala. (AP) — A mostly white Alabama jury on Friday convicted a white police officer of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in 2016.
Jurors returned the verdict against Montgomery police officer Aaron Cody Smith on the lesser charge for the shooting death of 58-year-old Gregory Gunn, according to reports from news outlets. Prosecutors had charged Smith with murder.
Smith shot and killed Gunn after he fled during a pat-down. The officer had stopped Gunn for a random stop and frisk as Gunn was walking home around 3 a.m.
Smith had a Bible in front of him at the defense table as jurors walked into the courtroom, and Gunn’s relatives stood as the verdict was read. Some in the courtroom cried.
A deputy led Smith out of the courtroom afterward, and Smith resigned from the Montgomery Police Department. He had been on paid leave since the killing.
“One bad apple in a bunch has been weeded out,” Franklin Gunn, a brother of the dead man, told reporters.
Defense lawyers maintained that Smith fired in self-defense because Gunn was grabbing a painter’s pole from a porch, but prosecutors said Gunn was never a threat to the officer. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning the verdict.
The shooting of the unarmed black man by a white police officer caused protests in Alabama’s capital city and “Justice for Greg Gunn” signs dotted yards in the neighborhood where he was killed. Friends said Gunn was walking home from a weekly card game to the house he shared with his mother when Smith stopped him. He died yards from the home.
During the trial, prosecutors described Smith, 26, as a “bully with a badge” and suggested the crime scene contradicted Smith’s version that Gunn was attacking him with the metal pole.
District Attorney Daryl Bailey told jurors in closing arguments that a crime scene photo shows Gunn dead on the ground with a baseball hat still clenched in one hand, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
“How in the world do you think he’s picking up this paint roller and doing all this swinging and all this threatening, and still holding his baseball hat in his hand?” Bailey asked.
Bailey told reporters after the verdict that Smith had made conflicting statements about what happened that night
The trial was moved from mostly black Montgomery to the rural, southeast Alabama town of Ozark, about 85 miles away, at the request of the defense because of publicity in the capital city.
Franklin Gunn thanked jurors for the verdict.
“They brought this case to a very conservative county expecting a different outcome, but I believe we have seen the best of Alabama today,” he said.