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St. Louis clergy warn of unrest if ex-cop is acquitted

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2017 file photo, activists gather outside the St. Louis courthouse where former police officer Jason Stockley's murder trial was heard. The mayor of St. Louis says the city is "on edge" as it awaits a verdict in the first-degree murder trial of former police officer Stockley, in part because of a troubled history of justice in the region and nationwide. It isn't clear when Judge Timothy Wilson will issue a verdict. Activists have threatened civil disobedience if Stockley, who is white, is acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black. (AP Photo/Jim Salter,File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A group of clergy warned a judge about the potential for unrest if he acquits a former St. Louis police officer in the 2011 killing of a black man following a high-speed chase.

About 25 St. Louis clergy members gathered Friday outside the courthouse, where the Rev. Clinton Stancil read their letter to the judge weighing the case against Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Stancil said the group doesn’t condone violence, but it believes there will protests if Stockley, 36, isn’t convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.

“Any decision rendered by you other than a guilty verdict will make you liable for any ensuing unrest or acts of aggression,” the group wrote to Judge Timothy Wilson. “In biblical terms, ‘the blood will be on your hands.'”

Stockley shot and killed Smith following a high-speed chase. The encounter began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot after seeing what appeared to be a drug deal. Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled “gun!” as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.

At his bench trial, prosecutors alleged that Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after he shot him. They said the gun had Stockley’s DNA on it, but not Smith’s.

Stockley, who left the police force in 2013 and moved to Houston, denied that he planted the gun. He testified that he saw Smith holding a gun before the chase began, and that he felt he was in imminent danger when he opened fire.

Testimony concluded last month, but it’s unclear when Judge Timothy Wilson will rule.

There is a history of unrest in the St. Louis area after similar cases, including the sometimes violent protests that erupted after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Brown, who was black, was unarmed when fatally shot by a white police officer. The officer wasn’t charged but later resigned.

Mayor Lyda Krewson issued a statement last week calling for calm.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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