A former Montgomery Police officer was convicted on Friday of manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in 2016.
Aaron Cody Smith is facing a sentence of between 10 and 20 years for shooting and killing Greg Gunn just steps from the home Gunn shared with his mother. Prosecutors had charged Smith with murder but the jury opted to convict Smith of the lesser charge.
“This defendant gave statement after statement with large facts he would change,” Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said during a news conference following the verdict. “One thing that came out is that he shot this guy in the back first. That was the first shot that he made.”
Bailey praised the majority-white jury in Dale County, where the case was moved, for issuing the verdict.
Gunn was walking home in his neighborhood from a late-night poker game when he was stopped by Smith. Gunn ran from Smith during a pat-down, and Smith gave chase, although the former officer admitted that he had no probable cause for stopping or chasing Gunn.
Smith tackled, tased and hit Gunn across the head with a police baton before ultimately the pair ended up on the front porch of Gunn’s next-door neighbor. There, Smith fired seven rounds, striking Gunn five times, after he claimed Gunn picked up a painter’s pole and swung it at him.
Bailey noted after the verdict that through it all, Gunn held his baseball cap in his hand, making it impossible for Gunn to have swung the pole.
Smith also changed his story about the pole — saying at first that Gunn swung it and then later altering that story to say Gunn simply held it in a threatening manner.
The case drew national attention, primarily because it was one of the few instances in which a white cop who shot and killed an unarmed black man was arrested for murder. And in this case, Bailey and the State Bureau of Investigation did not wait on a grand jury to indict Smith first, saying they believed the evidence showed a murder had taken place and they were determined to treat the case like all others.
Bailey made it clear on Friday that he would continue to do, telling reporters that he planned to fight any attempts to grant Smith bail and that he would push for the maximum, 20-year sentence to be imposed.