The last time a jury heard about Gary Smith was in 2008. During closing arguments in his murder trial, the pictures painted of the former Army Ranger by a Montgomery County prosecutor and Smith’s defense attorney could not have been more different.
One tragic fact was clear: Fellow Ranger Michael McQueen was dead, shot in the head in the apartment the men shared in Gaithersburg.
But was it murder, or did McQueen shoot himself?
In 2008, Deputy State’s Attorney John Maloney portrayed Smith as an icy killer whose calculated lies to police helped prove his guilt.
Defense attorney Andrew V. Jezic said Smith was a good friend who reacted terribly after walking in on another scene of carnage after years of war.
Smith initially told detectives that he wasn’t home when McQueen was shot, and he pointed to other possible suspects. But eventually, Smith admitted that he was home and that he had dumped the gun in a lake.
Jezic told the jury that Smith was paranoid and not thinking clearly when he saw his dead friend early the morning of Sept. 26, 2006. The two, who had served together in Afghanistan, had smoked marijuana and had been out drinking.
“The gentleman comes home from four years in the Army, and he sleeps with a gun in his bed. Is there any doubt in anybody’s mind that Gary is a little bit paranoid about the effects of war?” Jezic said, according to a court transcript.
Smith “was thinking about the fact that he didn’t protect the gentleman” he supervised in the Army, Jezic said. He also worried that people wouldn’t believe him, Jezic said. Smith was even concerned about the drug use.
Maloney told the jury not to believe it.
“A young man . . . lost his life because of that man right there,” Maloney said, telling jurors that Smith “pulled the trigger.”
And the idea that Smith was just panicked? “Think about that. Best friend commits suicide, and you’re worried because you have [some] marijuana in your apartment? How cold. How calloused,” Maloney said.
The jurors rejected the claim McQueen committed suicide. But they also said the prosecution did not prove that Smith was guilty of first-degree (premeditated) murder or second-degree (intentional) murder.
Instead, they found Smith guilty of a form of second-degree murder known as “depraved heart murder,” which did not require the state to prove that Smith intended to kill but rather that he acted with “an extreme disregard for human life.” He was also convicted of a gun charge and sentenced to 35 years.
Maryland’s highest court threw out Smith’s conviction in 2011 because Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson did not allow jurors to hear about comments that McQueen made when he was arrested in Georgia on a charge of driving under the influence weeks before his death. An officer said McQueen “appeared to be depressed . . . and he said ‘this is the last thing I need in my life right now, on top of all the other [expletive] going on in my life,’ ” according to court papers.
That information can now be admitted. Smith cannot be tried on premeditated or second-degree (intentional) murder this time, because of double jeopardy rules. He will be tried again on the “depraved heart” charge.
The Post will cover developments throughout each day of the trial, which begins Thursday, on washingtonpost.com/crime.