In the end, sparring jurors faced two choices: Find a compromise or hang the jury, two jurors said in interviews. They elected to compromise, rejecting the most serious charge — a form of second-degree murder — and finding instead that Smith had been “grossly negligent” and had caused McQueen’s death. They also convicted Smith of a gun charge.
As Smith was handcuffed and led from the courtroom, his sister, crying, yelled, “Gary, I love you.” His mother repeated those words.
McQueen’s mother, Glenda, said that her family had hoped for a guilty verdict on the murder charge but that at least a jury had, for a second time, rejected the claim that her son committed suicide.
“They could see through his lies when he was trying to say Michael killed himself,” McQueen said.
In 2008, Smith was found guilty of second-degree “depraved heart” murder, meaning that he killed McQueen while acting with “extreme disregard for human life.” An appeals court overturned that conviction last year because a judge had not allowed a jury to hear testimony on McQueen’s state of mind after a drunken-driving arrest weeks before his death.
“My son was cheated,” McQueen said. “He did have a verdict I think was more just.”
Michael McQueen, 22, was found dead early in the morning of Sept. 26, 2006, after he and Smith spent a night smoking marijuana and drinking. The elite soldiers had served together in Afghanistan.
The trial hinged on efforts by each side to build up or knock down the credibility of witnesses. Particular focus was placed on the words of Smith, who did not take the stand but spoke for hours to jurors through a grainy video recording of his police interrogation.
Smith made repeated and emphatic declarations that he was telling the truth, at one point swearing on the graves of his fallen Ranger buddies. But his story changed, and he apologized for lying.
Smith initially said he had come home to find his friend dead. Later, he said he loaded a gun outside, brought it upstairs and put it near McQueen, who shot himself. Then he panicked, he said, and took the gun, removed the bullets and drove to a nearby lake to throw everything away.
Prosecutors said Smith was a cunning liar. Defense attorneys said his initial lies were followed by a consistent and heartfelt account.
Jurors heard from a host of forensic experts who examined blood-spatter patterns and other evidence and came to differing conclusions about who fired the gun.
Once deliberations began, jurors quickly fell into two groups — guilty and not guilty on the murder charge — according to a juror from each side, who agreed to speak on the condition that they not be identified.