The trial of a Montgomery police officer indicted for the murder of an unarmed black man has been delayed again.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a stay in the trial of officer A.C. Smith, which was set to begin on Monday, and ordered the trial judge and Montgomery’s District Attorney’s Office to respond Smith’s motions to have the judge recuse, to change of venue and to disqualify the DA’s office from trying the case.
The ALSC was not unanimous in its decision. Four justices affirmed, two dissented and the remaining three recused for unknown reasons.
Smith’s defense team has attempted every possible legal maneuver, delaying the start of the trial for more than two and a half years. Smith was indicted in March 2016 for the February 2016 murder of Greg Gunn.
Testimony from a State Bureau of Investigation officer, who interviewed Smith twice after the shooting, revealed that Smith told the SBI that he had no probable cause to stop Gunn, no probable cause to frisk him, no probable cause to pursue Gunn when he ran and ultimately no probable cause to shoot Gunn.
Gunn was stopped by Smith as he walked home in his neighborhood from a late-night poker game. He was killed just steps away from the home he shared with his elderly mother and, according to court testimony in a recent hearing, after banging on a neighbor’s door and screaming for help.
That hearing — an immunity hearing to determine if Smith was immune from prosecution because his actions fell within the scope of his job as a police officer — ended when Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin ruled that Smith should stand trial. In issuing his ruling, Griffin also stated that he didn’t find Smith, who testified during the hearing, to be credible.
Smith’s attorneys say Griffin’s statement demonstrates bias and that he should recuse from hearing the actual trial. Griffin denied that motion and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals also denied the appeal of it.
It was the second time Smith’s defense team tried to get Griffin to recuse. The first effort was also denied.
Smith’s attorneys also claim the potential jury pool in Montgomery has been tainted by the media coverage of Griffin’s remarks in open court, and by his decision to allow the media to cover the trial. (For the record, court proceedings in America are, and always have been, open to the public to ensure they are conducted fairly and lawfully. Only in extreme cases, usually involving minors, has the public, including media, been excluded.)
And finally, Smith’s attorneys claim that the DA’s office has hired Griffin’s son, which prejudices the judge and that office.
The ALSC order requires both Griffin and the DA’s office to answer Smith’s claims by Aug. 23 (or 14 days from the order). Smith’s attorneys will then have seven days to respond. The ALSC will issue its decision sometime later.