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. Although Smith’s attorneys 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 8
Sept. 11, 2012
9:34 a.m.: Lyndon Ray Watkins Sr., a firearms expert with the District police, held the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver that killed Michael McQueen and showed the jury how it works. It takes 41 / 2 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger with and fire the gun if the hammer is already cocked back. It takes about 12 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger and fire the gun if the hammer is not. Watkins said that it has an internal safety mechanism and that you can see from the outside when the gun is loaded.
10:45 a.m.: Deborah Haba, one of the homicide detectives who interrogated Gary Smith on the September 2006 morning when McQueen died, testified about photographs she took of Smith. Among them: one that showed a minor injury on Smith’s right arm and others that showed blood on his pants, shoe and left palm.
She said she did not photograph the backs of Smith’s hands because he became upset when she was snapping photos of his palms. She consoled him, got distracted and did not continue taking the hand pictures, she said.
11:04 a.m.: Detective Jim Drewry took the stand as the prosecution restarted the video of Smith’s Sept. 26, 2006, interrogation.
Smith continued to assert that he was not in the Gaithersburg apartment he shared with McQueen when McQueen was shot.
“Look at me,” Drewry said. “How did he die?”
“He killed himself. . . . Maybe he saw something he didn’t like overseas. Maybe his girl broke his heart,” Smith said.
Smith said people like him and McQueen and are supposed to be big, tough killers.
“When it comes to emotions, you keep them locked up,” Smith said. Smith did not talk about how he shot a 12-year-old boy wearing a grenade vest, he said, nor did he tell people his “friend just got shot in the face.” He said three of his buddies were killed, among them Pat Tillman.
He swore “on their graves” that he was telling the detectives the truth about returning to the apartment and finding McQueen dead. “On the grave of my friend Mike. I’m telling you the truth,” he said.
Smith said the three weeks he spent with McQueen before his death were the “greatest” since he had left the Army. McQueen was not unreliable and unambitious like Smith’s other friends, he said, and he could count on McQueen to back him up.
Drewry told the jury that he and Smith went outside the police building for a while because Smith wanted a cigarette.
“He said he was confronted by a 12-year-old who was wearing a grenade vest, and he had to shoot him,” Drewry said. “He said the kid’s mother came out of the building and pulled the pin on the grenade.”
Drewry continued: “He said he tried to talk to a psychologist at Walter Reed. But they said he had to leave because he was no longer active duty.”
The video was started again for the jury.
Haba pressed Smith hard, telling him she thought he wasn’t being straight with her. “I know there’s something you’re holding back on,” she said. “I can tell when someone’s not being honest with me.”
She told him that crime scene evidence showed he was in the apartment when McQueen was shot. “I know you were in the room when it occurred,” she said.
“I did not shoot him,” Smith said.
“I’m not saying you shot him,” she said.
Smith finally described bringing the gun back with him in a laundry basket he had retrieved from his mother’s house. He said he walked into the apartment, put the gun down, told McQueen it was there and went into the bathroom for about 15 minutes. When he emerged and was walking down the hallway, he heard a gunshot, Smith said. He saw McQueen bleeding from the head.
“I absolutely went ballistic,” Smith said. He said he didn’t know whether to call the police or his mother. “I realized I had blood on me already. . . . I was in panic mode for I don’t know how long.”
Smith said when he entered the military, he thought things would be “like Rambo. . . . Everyone wants to be some kind of hero.”
He said a friend looked at him like he was a monster when he described shooting the boy. “People don’t understand,” Smith said.
McQueen probably saw similar things, Smith said.
“You try to get help. I went to Walter Reed hospital. I was just so depressed and disillusioned. . . . They told me I had to leave because I wasn’t active Army. I had to pay a psychologist myself,” Smith said. He told the detectives he didn’t have money for that.
1:44 p.m.: The interrogation video continued. Drewry pressed Smith on why he wanted to bring the .38 special to the apartment.
“I just wasn’t feeling safe there. There were some Arabs who moved in next door,” he said. He always had a gun with him at home, he said.
Smith said McQueen wanted him to bring two guns, so they could go to the shooting range together, but he just brought the .38.
He got out of the car and put the gun in his pocket, he said. Then, after being asked by Drewry, corrected himself, saying he first put it in his pocket, then wrapped it in a shirt when he went upstairs.
He warned McQueen about the gun, he said.
“I go, ‘Careful. There’s no safety, and it’s loaded,’” Smith said. “I said, ‘Check this out, Mike. Remember this?’”
Smith put it on ground.
“Right next to him?” Drewry asked.
Yes, Smith said.
He said he couldn’t remember if he saw McQueen shoot himself or not. He remembered seeing blood, and didn’t hear McQueen “cock the hammer back or anything.”
He heard the bang when he was stepping around the corner. “I don’t remember if I looked directly at him or not,” Smith said.
Smith grabbed the gun, moved it away from McQueen, and ran around for two minutes, “like a chicken with my head cut off,” he said.
Drewry kept asking him to go over the night’s events. Smith said after he picked up some belongings, including the gun, from his mom’s house, he pulled into the parking lot outside the apartment.
“I reloaded it once I stopped my car in the parking lot,” Smith said. “It just seemed like a good time to do it.”
He said: “I swear I did not kill Mike.”
When he entered the apartment, McQueen was watching highlights on ESPN from a New Orleans Saints game.
“None of this sh-- makes any sense,” Drewry said.
Smith said he took the gun lock off of the .38 before loading it. He put it down in the apartment. When he returned to the living room from the bathroom, he saw the blood streaming from McQueen’s head, he said.
“It was like a perfect little fountain,” he said.
He told Drewry and another detective, Sean Reilly, that he put the gun about 3 or 4 feet from McQueen.
“I just wanted to show it to him,” he said.
Even with your training, you left a loaded gun like that, Reilly asked.
Smith said he was going to keep it in the apartment, loaded but locked, “so if I need it I can just unlock it.”
Reilly asked Smith why he unloaded the gun and threw the bullets into a lake separately.
“I guess force of habit. I wouldn’t want anybody to find that loaded,” he said.
Smith was asked why he stayed in the apartment after returning from ditching the gun.
“I just didn’t want to leave him here. I wasn’t the right thing to do,” Smith said.
Smith left the interrogation room and went with detectives to the lake to help a search and rescue team locate the gun.
Later, back in questioning, Drewry pushed again: “Were you guys beefing? Did you get pissed off?”
No, Smith said, and added later: “I never pointed a gun at anybody, whether it was loaded or not,” something he learned from his military training.
Smith, who was not under arrest during the interrogation, also agreed to go with Drewry to the house where Smith’s mom and grandmother live to retrieve various weapons he kept there in a safe and elsewhere. Drewry said he didn’t want Smith to have access to guns because “I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
The two talked about other things. Smith told Drewry he did not talk to his mom much. He mentioned a molestation incident with a male relative but didn’t talk about details. He said he was a “strong believer in forgiveness” but his sister blamed his mother, leading to family tension. He said a sister has “mental problems.”
Smith also said he contracted malaria — a mosquito-borne disease — through a well that had a dead donkey in it. He said he had a 103-degree fever, and later learned that he cannot have children, which he said he was told could have been from the malaria. Drewry said he did not know that was a side effect of the illness.
After the interrogation, Smith left police headquarters with his mother.
Following the video, one of Smith’s lawyers, Andrew Jezic, quizzed Drewry about what the men talked about while off-camera on cigarette breaks. One juror leaned his head far back on his chair, and another yawned.
Jezic noted that Smith said he did not know if his bullet had hit the 12-year-old boy, since he was not the only Ranger to fire, and Drewry agreed.
The jury’s day — and the prosecution’s case — ended with the recorded testimony of Michael McQueen’s deceased father, Michael. He passed away after the 2008 trial, but his portrait was placed on a ledge in the witness stand.
His son was not depressed, upset or suicidal, Michael McQueen said. The time in the military had a positive impact him.
“I was very impressed with him the last year of his life,” McQueen said. “I’m a tough man to impress.”
His son wanted to go to Howard and become an international lawyer.
On the recording, Jezic asked him if his son every told anyone he wanted to end his life.
“Of course not,” McQueen said.
5:20 p.m.: Shortly after the jury was sent home, Judge Eric M. Johnson heard defense arguments that they should be allowed to put a Walter Reed doctor on the stand to talk about military suicides.
The doctor would testify about how few returning soldiers who kill themselves tell anyone they are considering doing so, and how the vast majority of those who committed suicide did not experience combat, Jezic said.
Maloney, one of the prosectors, said the proposed testimony from a “hired gun” was “ridiculous.” He also said it was dangerous, because it could lead to courts allowing in broad generalizations about various groups — based on everything from height to race — rather than sticking to the evidence in the case at hand.
Johnson did not immediately rule.