A former Alabama police officer was sentenced to 14 years in prison on manslaughter charges in connection with the shooting death of an unarmed Black man during a stop-and-frisk stop.
Aaron Cody Smith learned his fate during a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, per NBC 15. Smith shot and killed 58-year-old Gregory Gunn on Feb. 25, 2016. Smith randomly stopped Gunn for a pat-down as he was walking home after leaving a card game.
Gunn took off running and Smith shot him five times. He died a few feet away from the home he shared with his mother.
Smith claimed self-defense and said Gunn came at him with a paint pole the victim grabbed from a neighbor’s porch. He was arrested on March 6, 2016.
Smith’s defense was not persuasive, as a jury unanimously convicted him of manslaughter in November 2019. He was originally charged with murder, but the jury was given the option to convict him of the lesser charge. Smith resigned from the Montgomery Police Department hours after the conviction was announced.
During this week’s hearing, Gunn’s family expressed how traumatized they were by his death, according to WSFA.
“You did what you intended to do. You killed my brother. You hung him. You were the prosecutor, the judge, and jury,” said Kenneth Gunn.
“My brother meant a lot to me,” Kimberly Gunn said, as reported by Montgomery Advertiser. “He showed me that a single mother with no education could be something. He helped me make all the right decisions in life, because there were times I wanted to give up. I wanted to take the easy way out. He said I could do it. He made a difference in my life.”
Smith apologized directly to the family via a prepared letter he read during the hearing.
“There are no good words at today’s hearing where both sides will be satisfied,” Smith said. “Not only has this been a roller coaster for myself but for the Gunn family as well. I know an apology is not good enough for you all, but I truly am sorry for your loss.”
He said Gunn’s death still affects him to this day.
“I struggle with having to take a life seconds after the shots were fired and I still struggle today,” he continued. It’s not easy on me and please don’t think I was able to just move on like it never happened. It’s on my mind always.”
Mickey McDermott, Smith’s attorney, professed his client’s innocence and said he would appeal the sentence. The defense is also seeking an appeal bond which would allow Smith to be out of jail while the appeal is being processed.
“He believes he’s still innocent,” McDermott said. “He believes he still operated that night within the boundaries of his sworn duties as a police officer.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey is skeptical of the defense’s plan.
“That’s not an appealable issue. There are no appeal-able issues. There was not one objection, that we could recall, that was made by the defense in this case,” Bailey stated. “Most of the evidence, all of the evidence really, was stipulated to that came in. As far as an appealable issue, there are no appealable issues by the fact that they didn’t object to anything during the course of the trial.”