Ex-Alabama Police Officer To Be Released From Prison After Plea Deal

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama police officer convicted for killing an unarmed Black man in 2016 is being released from prison.

A judge on Wednesday granted Aaron Cody Smith's “Rule 32” petition which allows a defendant to challenge their conviction in the same court they were convicted in once their appeals process is over, WSFA-TV reported. The decision comes nearly eight years after the Feb. 25, 2016, on-duty encounter cost 59-year-old Gregory Gunn his life.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who took the unusual step of taking over the case two weeks ago from Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey, issued a statement after the hearing announcing a plea deal that would allow Smith's release on time served. The former Montgomery police officer had been serving a 14-year sentence at Limestone Correctional Facility following his 2019 manslaughter conviction.

Marshall said his office received the case on appeal in 2020.

“Despite my personal misgivings about the strength of the case against Mr. Smith, my Office successfully defended the conviction in accordance with our statutory duty,” Marshall said. "I then watched as the case went on to the Alabama Supreme Court and back again to the trial court late last year. I firmly believe that Mr. Smith was due a new trial, but after eight years of watching this protracted litigation, I exerted my authority to bring this case to a close.

“Mr. Smith has pleaded guilty to the offense for which he was convicted, in exchange for returning to his family. I believe that this is a fair and appropriate outcome."

Marshall said he met with Gunn's family last week.

“I am acutely aware of the pain and suffering they’ve experienced with the loss of their brother. My heart goes out to them. I hope that they are able to find some closure and healing with this matter finally resolved,” he said.

He said he also feels for Smith's family.

“Mr. Smith chose an honorable career of protecting the public and his life was shattered in an instant — a reality that all law enforcement officers today live in fear of. He has paid a high price. It is time for him to go home,” Marshall said.

Bailey, in a statement, said he's happy that Smith finally confessed to intentionally killing Gunn.

“If he had done that in 2016 it would have saved a lot of time and money,” Bailey said. "I am very disappointed that he is being released early which is a privilege not afforded to most convicted killers.”

Following Wednesday's plea, the judge agreed to sentence Smith to a split 18-month sentence followed by a 90-day probation, which, when added together, equals 21 months, the amount of time Smith has already spent behind bars.

Smith will be released on time served, though the exact date is up to the Alabama Department of Corrections, which has to process him out of their system. Smith’s attorney told WSFA-TV he expects the release to happen within the week. Smith will also have to pay a fine of about $1,100 before his release.

As of Wednesday, Smith had served one year, nine months and 14 days of his sentence, according to the ADOC. He also accumulated more than three years' of good time, which refers to time reduction incentives certain inmates can receive.

Cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom where there was little emotion during the hearing, WSFA-TV reported. Smith was calm, with his arms crossed, as the judge announced the plea. When it was over, the Smith family was visibly happy while the Gunn family showed disappointment.

The Smith family told reporters they would discuss the case at some point in the future.

Gunn’s family did not initially want to speak, but his sister ultimately said that, “My brother loved this city. This city killed him. Justice was not served. Justice was not served.”

William Boyd, a Gunn family representative, said the family did not get a say in the decision after meeting with Marshall a week ago. Boyd said Marshall told them if the case went back to trial, Smith could be found not guilty or be released early even if it didn’t go back to trial.