MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A judge on Tuesday refused to move the murder trial of an Alabama police officer, rejecting defense arguments that the white officer will be unable to get a fair trial in the city where he’s charged with killing a black man.
Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin denied the change-of-venue request made by lawyers for Aaron Smith, 24, who is charged with murder in the shooting death of 58-year-old Greg Gunn. A lawyer for Gunn told the Montgomery Advertiser (http://on.mgmadv.com/2sxHVjm ) that he plans to appeal the decision.
The confrontation began when the Montgomery officer stopped Gunn, who was walking through his neighborhood shortly after 3 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2016.
Friends said Gunn was walking home from a weekly card game and was shot next-door to the house he shared with his mother. The defense has said Smith stopped Gunn because he thought he was acting suspiciously, and that Gunn fought with the officer before the shooting.
Smith’s lawyers had tried to move the trial away from Montgomery. The defense argues the city, which is about 57 percent black, has been “infested with racial prejudice and hatred” toward Smith because of community leaders’ comments about the case and media reports that highlighted the race of those involved. Yellow lawns signs reading “Justice for Greg Gunn” lined the streets in the neighborhood where he was shot
Prosecutors argued there’s no evidence that media coverage saturated the community or harmed Smith.
A state investigator testified in a hearing last year that Smith gave conflicting stories about what happened before he shot Gunn. The fatal confrontation was not captured on Smith’s body camera or dash camera because Smith did not activate his body camera or turn on his patrol car lights.
The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 23.