Maryland Community News
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Jury finds ex-Army Ranger not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
This story was updated at 4:55 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2012.
In spite of his conviction Sept. 19 of involuntary manslaughter and a handgun offense, former U.S. Army Ranger Gary Smith remained determined to prove his innocence.
“I’ll survive,” Smith said the day before as he waited for the jury’s verdict with family and friends. “Either way, I’ll survive, but it is very hard. Even if I go back to jail, I’ll never give up.”
Smith, 29, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and the use of a handgun in a crime of violence in Montgomery County Circuit Court at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19 — nearly 12 hours after the jury began its deliberation. The trial itself, ordered by the Maryland Court of Appeals after Smith’s first conviction was overturned last year, lasted more than three weeks.
Smith was originally convicted in 2008 of the second-degree depraved heart murder of 22-year-old Michael McQueen, Smith’s roommate and fellow combat veteran who was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head in the Gaithersburg apartment the two shared on Sept. 26, 2006.
That conviction was overturned last year after the appeals court determined Judge Eric M. Johnson had erred in not allowing Smith’s defense attorneys to present a police officer’s testimony on McQueen’s state of mind before his death as evidence at trial.
Andrew Jezic, one of Smith’s defense attorneys, confirmed that Smith will appeal his manslaughter and handgun convictions.
“I think it’s safe to say we are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence and for their acquittal of the depraved heart murder charge, but we are very disappointed that it was not a complete acquittal,” Jezic said. “We will certainly be appealing.”
Leeanne Soltes, Smith’s sister, left the courtroom in tears after watching her brother being led away in handcuffs. Soltes also maintained her brother’s innocence and vowed to appeal, despite the heavy toll she said each trial has taken on her family.
“We’re never going to give up hope but this has ripped holes into the hearts of everyone who knows [Gary],” she said through sobs after hearing the verdict. “He’s going to miss his 30th birthday, which is a week before his sentencing hearing. He’s going to miss my daughter’s second birthday a week after his sentencing. I don’t have my baby brother.”
Glenda McQueen, Michael’s mother, was also dissatisfied with the verdict. She believed the jury did not go far enough in holding Smith responsible for her son’s death.
“I was disappointed that he did not get second-degree murder but I was satisfied that he will receive some time,” she said outside the courtroom. “Gary Smith is guilty of killing my son, and he will serve time in jail for that.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, speaking on behalf of Deputy State’s Attorney John Maloney and Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Hill, said his office was pleased with the sentence and will be prepared to reply to any future appeals Smith may file.
“There are always appeals,” McCarthy said. “Justice can sometimes be appealed but we are hopeful that ultimate justice was served here today.”
Both McCarthy and McQueen pointed out that, considering the first jury’s verdict in 2008, this marks the second independent panel of jurors to rule against the defense’s claim that McQueen killed himself.
Smith will receive at least five years in jail and could serve up to 30 years at his sentencing hearing Oct. 15. Smith’s handgun charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in jail and a maximum possible sentence of 20 years. Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
“I hope the judge gives him the maximum penalty,” Glenda McQueen said. “ … I would love to have closure in this, but until we see that appeal I won’t have any.”