When Gary Smith was found guilty of second-degree depraved-heart murder by a Montgomery County jury in 2008, Glenda McQueen believed her son's killer had been brought to justice.
But McQueen's time on the stand was, unfortunately, not over.
Following an appeal by defense attorneys, Smith's conviction — and his 35-year sentence — were thrown out and a retrial ordered by the Maryland Court of Appeals late last year. Aug. 30, Glenda once again took the stand to relive the tragedy of losing her son, 22-year-old Michael McQueen, a three-time veteran of Afghanistan and former Army Ranger.
"Going through my son's death was bad enough by itself, but now going through this, the second trial, is, in a lot of ways, even worse," Glenda McQueen said after testifying before the jury. "This was something that we thought was settled and done, and now it's come back to haunt us. It's torn my whole family apart all over again."
In spite of her strong emotions, Glenda remained cool on the stand under defense attorney Barry Helfand’s questioning. Helfand specifically asked Glenda to recall her son’s attitudes toward alcohol and drugs, which both he and Smith were said to be using heavily the night Michael died, as well as Michael’s mental state after he returned home from his third and most recent tour in Afghanistan.
“He was more mature [when he came home] because before he went into the military he was more fun-loving; and that part didn’t change, but when he got out of the military he was much more focused on where he wanted to go,” she said, outlining her son’s plans to become an attorney in international law.
While Glenda described her son as loving life and “very happy” after his return, she did admit that Michael did not talk to her and her husband, who died of lung cancer shortly after Smith’s first conviction in 2008, about drinking while he was overseas. Michael also did not tell his parents about his drunken driving arrest in Georgia in the months before he died.
Helfand’s opening argument focused in part on his belief that Michael was likely depressed following his tour abroad and, when things like his arrest threatened to rob him of the clearance granted by his former status as an Army intelligence officer in the rangers, he turned even more to drinking. Ultimately, Smith’s attorneys will seek to prove the gunshot wound that killed Michael Sept. 26, 2006, was self-inflicted.
“That is the key to their case,” Glenda said after leaving the stand Thursday. “[Michael] must be torn down; he must be persecuted in order to free Gary Smith … I understand that that is the legal process, but that doesn’t make this any easier to sit through.”
Smith’s family is also anxious to see the conclusion of the trial, said his grandfather, also named Gary Smith. For the elder Smith, the retrial came as a welcome opportunity for his grandson to prove his innocence, but he also acknowledged the heartbreak McQueen’s family is going through.
“It’s a tragic thing for both of these families; both of these guys served their country with courage and bravery,” he said after listening to Glenda’s testimony. “This trial brings up a lot of bad memories, and I guess it’s painful to see that going on again, but I firmly believe [Gary] is innocent.”
Smith’s family has another reason to be optimistic; the appeals court ruled circuit court Judge Eric M. Johnson had erred in preventing the defense from presenting a police officer’s testimony on McQueen’s state of mind before his death as evidence at trial. This time around, that testimony will be heard, the elder Smith said.
“I think the new evidence that will be heard in this trial will shed new light on what happened,” he said. “I’m very optimistic.”
Testimony in the case is scheduled to continue for two weeks.