Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ranger guilty in comrade's murder

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The Army Ranger accused of killing his roommate and former subordinate was found guilty of second-degree murder on Wednesday after an 11-day trial.

Closing arguments ended Tuesday afternoon and jurors began deliberating on Wednesday morning. They delivered their verdict about 4:30 p.m.

Gary James Smith, 25, of Gaithersburg was originally indicted on first-degree murder in the death of Michael McQueen Jr., 22, who had moved to Gaithersburg from Florida in his transition to civilian life.

Smith was also found guilty of commission of a felony with a handgun and faces 50 years in prison.

McQueen had just finished his third tour in Afghanistan when he moved in with Smith, who was his sergeant. Smith had served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

McQueen was found shot once in the temple in their Gaithersburg apartment in 2006.

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.

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

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