The trial of ex-Army Ranger Gary Smith: Day 4

September 4, 2012

Former Army ranger Gary Smith is on trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court, accused in the 2006 fatal shooting of his roommate, fellow ranger Michael McQueen. You can follow the daily court proceedings at washingtonpost.com/crime.

McQueen was found dead in the Gaithersburg apartment the two men shared. Though Smith’s lawyers argued that McQueen shot himself, Smith was found guilty in 2008 of “depraved heart murder,” a form of second-degree murder.

But in 2011, Maryland’s highest court threw out the conviction, saying that crucial information had been wrongly withheld from jurors. Smith’s retrial began Aug. 30.

Trial Day 4


A Montgomery County jury is expected to decide in February whether Gary Smith, bottom, killed Michael McQueen, above. McQueen, 22, was an Army Ranger and former sergeant Smith, 25, is charged with first-degree murder.

Sept. 5, 2012

9:10 a.m.: Court staff drank coffee and orange juice from behind the bench. A cardboard box that had been sealed with yellow evidence tape rested on a ledge next to them, the .38 revolver used to shoot Michael McQueen was inside. McQueen’s mother, Glenda, walked out of the courtroom. Former Ranger Gary Smith, accused of killing McQueen in 2006, held the door for her.

9:39 a.m.: Iain Sutherland, a former Ranger who worked in intelligence, testified that he met Smith in Afghanistan in 2004.

Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Hill asked if Smith had flown unmanned aerial vehicles in Afghanistan, whether Smith had taken direct fire, whether Smith had shot a 12-year-old wearing a grenade vest, or whether Smith’s body armor was damaged by gunfire.

Not to his knowledge, Sutherland said.

He and Smith became friends, Sutherland said. He also was friendly with McQueen, who Sutherland said was “kind of a goofball a lot of the time.”

Sutherland described an incident during a cookout at Smith’s place. Smith was sitting to his right as they watched TV. He had a pistol.

“He was showing it off to us, kind of fondling it and loading it, putting the bullets in the clip,” Sutherland said. “I didn’t think he was being real safe with it. He had it kinda pointed toward my leg.”

Sutherland said he gestured in a way that meant, “What are you doing, man?” and Smith responded in a way that indicated “he’s got a handle on it. It’s no big deal.”

In answering queries from Smith’s lawyer, Barry Helfand, Sutherland said he didn’t know if the clip was in the gun when it was pointed at his leg.

Sutherland also said he didn’t know if Smith shot a 12-year-old, but said, but “I think that would have been pretty big news.”

Regarding the cookout gun incident, Sutherland said: “I know he likes guns, and that other people did, too. He wanted to show his gun to his friends.”

Helfand asked if McQueen ever goofed around with guns.

Sutherland said he never saw anybody “mess around” with military guns in any unprofessional way.

9:58 a.m.: Sgt. Major Edward Baptiste, an intelligence analyst, appeared before jurors in full uniform. Prosecutors called him because he was one of Smith’s supervisors in the Rangers, including in Iraq.

Hill asked if Smith was shot at, or if he shot at others.

“I would know everything,” Baptiste said, and he didn’t know anything about that.

And shooting a 12-year-old? Baptiste said he hadn’t heard and would have known.

Judge Eric M. Johnson told jurors that Baptiste was being called as a defense witness. Baptiste said he was not sure if he deployed to Afghanistan with Smith and McQueen, or whether Baptiste was in Afghanistan with Smith at all.

Back in the States, he saw no discipline problems with Smith and McQueen.

Defense lawyer Andrew Jezic asked if there was any friction between the two men.

“Every once in a while,” Baptiste said.

Were they friends?

“Yes,” Baptiste said.

10:19 a.m.: Former Ranger Teru Hayashi, now a Richmond police officer, said he and Smith were part of a clandestine mission into Iraq shortly before the invasion. Their job was to provide security. He and Smith flew small unmanned aerial vehicles, about seven feet wide, fitted with precision Global Positioning System equipment and cameras, Hayashi said.

The idea was to move in stealthily, unseen by the enemy, and to run away or “neutralize” the enemy if they were discovered, but they weren’t.

Hayashi also said they had prepared for another mission — to help rescue Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch — but they weren’t needed to fly unmanned vehicles because other aircraft were available.

11:15 a.m.: Jurors walked single file back into the courtroom, with Glenda McQueen on their right, and a prosecution cart piled high with packages of evidence on their left.

Kimberly Clements, a forensic specialist with the Montgomery police crime scene unit, described the layout of the Gaithersburg apartment that Smith and McQueen shared.

Hill then began a gruesome slide show for the jury, as dozens of photographs taken by Clements were entered into evidence and projected, one by one, on a wide-screen television. Glenda McQueen stared down as the images filled the courtroom:

●Michael McQueen, head way back, with the TV on and the carpet full of blood.

●A marijuana grinder on McQueen’s lap.

●Bloody shoe prints from hallway.

●A Comcast remote control on the carpet beside McQueen’s right hand.

●Beer bottles on the bar.

●A bloody doorknob.

●A bloody patch of carpet with an orange lighter.

●An orange gunlock, found against the back wall behind McQueen.

●Smith’s black T-shirt, with a rust-colored patch of blood.

●McQueen’s head wound and closely cropped hair.

●A picture taken the day after McQueen’s death at the medical examiner’s office, showing where the bullet entered.

●A green sack in Smith’s room with loose rounds of ammunition.

●A silver cable gunlock in Smith’s room, amid messy clothes.

●A series of pictures showing blood spatter after Clements treated various parts of the apartment with a chemical enhancer that makes it easier to see blood patterns.

After the photos came the packages. Nearly all of the items stayed wrapped up in brown paper, in envelopes or plastic bags. Among them:

●The chair McQueen was found in.

●Bloody carpet.

●The beer bottle beside McQueen’s right hand.

●The silver cable gunlock, which Hill held up to the .38 revolver that had already been entered into evidence.

●Live rounds.

●A bottle of Oxy carpet cleaner.

●The remote control.

●McQueen’s wallet.

●The apartment lease agreement.

●A gunshot residue kit.

●The black shorts McQueen was wearing.

●A “ceramic smoking pipe possibly used for drug inhalation,” Clements said. It was found on the floor to the right of McQueen.

●The white tank top McQueen was wearing.

●The bullet from McQueen’s head.

12:25 p.m.: Judge Johnson told the jury not to read or talk about the trial, told them to leave their notebooks behind and excused them until Thursday at 9 a.m.

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.
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