As testimony drew to a close in a murder retrial for a former Army Ranger on Wednesday, defense attorneys called a former Georgia police officer to the stand to talk about the victim’s state of mind a few months before his death.
The victim, 22-year-old Michael McQueen, was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head on Sept. 26, 2006, in the Gaithersburg apartment he shared with the defendant, fellow former Army Ranger and combat veteran Gary Smith. Montgomery County prosecutors alleged that Smith, 29, shot McQueen before hiding the gun. Smith’s defense attorneys argued that McQueen committed suicide with Smith’s gun, explaining that Smith only disposed of the gun because he was scared police would blame him.
During testimony Wednesday, former Acworth County Police Officer John Hegger told the jury that McQueen appeared depressed when he was pulled over and arrested for drunken driving in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 2006.
“He said, ‘Does this have to be like this? Do I really have to go to jail?’ He tried to talk me out of taking him to jail,” Hegger said of McQueen’s statements immediately after he failed a roadside sobriety test.
A short time later, after McQueen was taken to the local police station and Hegger began to document the arrest, McQueen became noticeably depressed, Hegger said.
“He told me, ‘This is the last thing I need in my life on top of all the other s--- I have going on,’” Hegger said.
Defense attorneys Andrew Jezic and Barry Helfand believe those statements revealed a brooding depression in McQueen that could indicate he was contemplating suicide. After his arrest, McQueen would likely lose his security clearance and thus jeopardize his ability to get a job, a fact he also mentioned to Hegger during his arrest.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County State’s Attorneys John Maloney and Robert Hill argued that McQueen’s statements that night reflect little about his mental state beyond a normal concern over an arrest and criminal record.
“People often try to talk their way out of arrests, don’t they?” Maloney asked Hegger, who is now a parole and probation training officer in North Carolina. “... You don’t know if that was another attempt by [McQueen] to talk his way out of an arrest, do you?”
Smith was convicted of the second-degree depraved heart murder of McQueen in 2008, but the conviction was overturned and a new trial ordered by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled circuit court Judge Eric M. Johnson had erred in preventing the defense from presenting Hegger’s testimony as evidence at that trial.
Now Smith stands accused of second-degree depraved heart murder, gross negligence involuntary manslaughter and the use of a handgun in a violent crime. Smith could not be re-tried for first-degree murder because to do so would constitute double jeopardy, county State’s Attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff said.
The defense is set to rest its case Thursday and closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for Friday morning.