MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) -- A 14-person jury heard opening statements in the murder trial for Montgomery Police Officer Aaron Cody Smith on Tuesday.
Smith is charged with murder for the 2016 on-duty shooting of Greg Gunn.
Prosecutor Ben McGough spoke to the jury about their case against Smith, categorizing the officer as a “bully with a badge” who’s had an ever-changing account of the events that led to Gunn’s death.
McGough said Smith was sent into a high-crime neighborhood on third shift, given the command to “stop everything that moved” and conducted a field interview. The prosecutor said Smith got out of his Tahoe barking orders at Gunn, telling him to place his hands on the hood of the SUV - not explaining what was happening or why.
“Greg Gunn decided he had enough,” McGough said to the jury. “He did what any of us would do, he asked, ‘what did I do wrong?’”
The prosecutor explained Gunn side-stepped the Tahoe and ran - Smith followed.
“Gregg Gunn does not turn and charge him, he doesn’t pick up a stick, a rock,” McGough said. “After being chased, tased, and beaten, Greg Gunn ran and the defendant chased him.”
McGough said Smith escalated his force from a taser to an asp, or a metal baton, then to a gun.
The struggle between Gunn and Smith ended on the front porch of a house beside Gunn’s mother’s residence, explaining when Gunn got to the front door he grabbed a paint pole; that’s when Smith fired shots.
“Gregg Gun was not armed, Greg Gunn didn’t fight,” McGough explained. “Greg Gunn ran. Because he ran, the defendant chased him, tased him, beat him, and shot him to death.”
The state explained Gunn was on drugs at the time of the incident.
“Gunn had cocaine in his system, he had a good bit of it,” McGough said. “We’re not trying to hide from that, we are not going to dispute that.”
McGough told the jury the state believes the use of lethal force against Greg Gunn is unjustified.
“The whole trial depends on this question: is he telling the truth,” McGough stated.
Defense attorney Mickey McDermott started opening statements by bringing Smith with him before the jury.
“This is Montgomery Police Officer Cody Smith,” McDermott said. “He’s a third shift patrol officer and third generation law enforcement.”
As Smith sat down, McDermott walked to the jury and pointed at Smith and stated, “I will make you a promise - that police officer will take that stand and swear on that Bible and tell you the truth.”
McDermott stood close to the jury and explained during this trial they will see Smith was following proper procedures throughout this entire situation.
The defense responded to a statement made by the state who said Gunn is dead because he ran from police. McDermott said, “We believe the evidence will show that Greg Gunn is dead because he decided to disobey a police officer.”
McDermott walked the jury through the course of events from Smith’s perspective, asking them if they’ve ever been in a car wreck - and whether their recollection of the event became more vivid over the course of a few days.
He said Smith saw Gunn and he fit the description of a suspect wanted for crimes in that area. When Smith asked Gunn to put his hands on the Tahoe he felt something hard at Gunn’s waist. Gunn attempted to get away and Smith chased him, attempting to subdue Gunn by using a range of non-lethal force. When they approached the porch, Smith heard a metal clanking sound.
“What the state didn’t tell you - Gunn said ‘alright police’ and ran onto the porch into the dark,” McDermott said. “He didn’t run to a street light and say ‘Jesus help me.’”
McDermott said in the dark, Smith saw Gunn arming himself with a pole and he fired shots, calling the shooting justified.
The state called three witnesses before afternoon recess. The third witness, Montgomery Cpl. Steven Warren, testified he was on third shift patrol with Smith and immediately began rolling toward Smith’s location when he heard "code 6″ over the scanner, which means shots fired. When Warren arrived, he saw Smith standing over Gunn’s body. Warren said Smith was about to hyperventilate, and asked if he wanted to go sit in the car, but he didn’t want to move.
Warren said he’d worked on patrol with Smith for some time, stating he saw Smith in roll call hours earlier, affirming Smith wasn’t angry or upset for any reason - calling it “just another night.”
During Warren’s testimony the state played a recording of the radio calls to dispatch. The jury leaned forward to hear, hanging on every word. The recording made it clear the short amount of time between Smith radioing that he was stepping out for a field interview, calling for backup on a foot pursuit, and ultimately when shots were fired.
As the recording played, a member of Gunn’s family wept. Smith, who was sitting at the defense table between his attorneys remained stoic.
The court returned from recess at 1:15 p.m., and the state called its fourth witness, Officer Randall Smith, a seven year Montgomery Police veteran. Randall Smith, who is not related to the defendant, testified about responding to the scene where Gunn was killed. Randall Smith stated the defendant was distraught when he arrived to the scene. He corroborated the orders officers received at roll call the night regarding the high crime area in and near Mobile Heights, where the shooting took place.
“They wanted us to stay in that area and stop whomever you saw out walking in that area to conduct a field interview," Randall Smith testified.
Both the state and defense used witness Randall Smith to establish MPD’s practices and policies regarding field interviews. Randall Smith testified if someone ran from him during a field interview and he had reasonable suspicion to believe they committed a crime, he would try to apprehend them.
“If someone strikes you, what do you do,” defense attorney McDermott asked Randall Smith.
“I would take them into custody,” he responded, agreeing this has happened to him before.
McDermott took Randall Smith through a hypothetical scenario similar to the one in question in this trial. The witness agreed he would use his taser, then escalate to a baton. McDermott grabbed a paint pole similar to the one used by Gunn, and asked Randall Smith if a suspect arms themselves with a paint pole, would you use lethal force.
“If I felt like he could disarm me, yes - I would use lethal force,” Randall Smith stated.
The jury followed this line of questioning closely; some jurors were leaned forward listening.
The state then qualified it’s first expert witness, Sgt. Jessica Dailey of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. She trains instructors on taser usage. Dailey took the jury through how to use a taser similar to the one used by Smith. The jury used protective eyewear as she demonstrated using the taser in the courtroom.
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