Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Army Ranger murder trial draws to a close

Closing arguments were expected to begin Tuesday afternoon

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A jury of three men and nine women was expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of a former U.S. Army Ranger accused of fatally shooting his roommate more than a year ago.Gary James Smith, 25, is accused of shooting his roommate and fellow Ranger Michael McQueen Jr., 22, in the temple in their Gaithersburg apartment around 1 a.m. Sept. 26, 2006, after a night of drinking together. Smith threw the gun, which was his, in Lake Needwood in Rockville before calling 9-1-1 about an hour after McQueen’s death. The state alleged that Smith, who grew up in Derwood, tried to get away with murder while the defense contended that Smith, the only other person in the apartment at the time, was covering up his friend’s suicide because he feared he would get blamed for McQueen’s death.

Friends and family of McQueen, who grew up in Florida, have testified that he was not depressed and was looking forward to beginning life as a civilian after three tours in Afghanistan. In his opening arguments, Andrew Jezic, Smith’s attorney, questioned the state’s lack of motive and noted that the gun, a .38-caliber revolver, fires more easily when the safety is off.

In the hours following McQueen’s death, attorneys said, Smith told police several differing stories, at first claiming that he came home to find his roommate dead. He then said that he had put the loaded gun, which had its safety off, next to McQueen and heard it fire while exiting the bathroom.

Much of the case has hinged on forensic evidence, with both the prosecution and defense asserting their cases were bolstered by science.

Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a high-profile medical examiner in Texas, testified for the defense last week that he believed McQueen’s death was a suicide, Jezic said in court Tuesday. Jezic cited Di Maio as testifying that a clean space within a bloodstain on the carpet created immediately after McQueen was shot was formed when Smith squatted down to check his roommate’s pulse by touching his neck, not by blood falling on top of his shoe as prosecutors have said.

State witness Dr. William Vosburgh, laboratory director of the Consolidated Forensics Lab in Washington, D.C., testified earlier in the trial that it did not appear that aid had been performed on McQueen because the blood on his body did not seem disturbed.

A smear of blood on the carpet that seemingly resulted from blood being wiped off a hand could have been created by Smith pushing the gun away from McQueen, who was found sitting in a chair in the living room, Jezic said.

However, a state witness called Tuesday to rebut Di Maio’s testimony said that he did not take crucial pieces of evidence into his analysis. Dr. Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist, said that Di Maio did not consider the presence of blood on Smith’s right shoe and pant cuff when reaching his conclusion.

‘‘They had to be there not only at that location but at the time the blood was projected” immediately following the gunshot, Arden said.

The trial, which began March 18, included testimony from detectives, McQueen’s parents, Smith’s parents and friends of both McQueen and Smith.