Ex-Ranger Gets 35 Years In '06 Killing of Roommate
Thursday, July 17, 2008
A former U.S. Army Ranger was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday in the 2006 slaying of a fellow ranger at their Gaithersburg apartment, a killing that prompted the sentencing judge to bemoan what he called the lack of programs for war veterans.
"If nothing is done about it," Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson said from the bench, "our prison system is going to be the graveyard of the lost souls" of returning veterans who don't get the help they need.
Johnson said the nation spends "millions and millions of dollars" training rangers and other troops, "but we don't spend very much getting them out."
Still, he laid ultimate responsibility for the "horrendous crime" at the feet of Gary Smith, 25, who was convicted in April. Jurors rejected the defense's claim that the roommate, Michael McQueen II, 22, shot himself.
Prosecutors had contended that, after a night of drinking, Smith and McQueen returned to their apartment, where Smith shot his roommate at point-blank range in the side of the head. Smith gave investigators conflicting accounts of the events, and he acknowledged that he tossed the gun in a nearby lake.
Johnson sentenced Smith to 30 years in prison for "second-degree depraved heart murder," meaning Smith acted with "extreme disregard" for human life and caused the death of McQueen. Johnson added five years for the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony.
Deputy State's Attorney John Maloney said he was "extremely glad that Gary Smith, who has denied culpability from Day One, is going to prison and will be incarcerated for a significant period of time."
Attorneys for Smith reiterated that their client was wrongfully convicted. "We maintain our absolute innocence and look forward to appeal," attorney Andrew Jezic said.
At trial, Smith was acquitted of first-degree murder and another version of second-degree murder. A juror interviewed after the verdict was delivered said she and her colleagues thought prosecutors didn't prove Smith had formed a premeditation to kill. Another juror said jurors gave weight to how Smith tried to hide the gun. The defense said Smith discarded the gun in a misguided effort to conceal that his roommate had committed suicide.
McQueen's younger brother, Otto, told the judge yesterday that the death has devastated him and his family.
"I'm not exactly sure how to start this off," Otto McQueen said. He called his brother a kind, vibrant and fun person who made friends easily. That someone who knew him could have killed him seems unreal, he said.
"It's like my heart has been ripped out," Otto McQueen said, his voice shaking.
Another former ranger, Keith Penn, called Smith a loyal friend.
"There are two lives that have been destroyed in this mess that we're looking at today," Penn said, pleading for leniency for Smith. "We need him out here in the world. And, your honor, there is good reason to have him back here and not have him as the next life lost."