WOODBINE, Ga. (AP) — A prosecutor asked jurors Thursday to convict a former Georgia police officer for a “fatal mistake,” while the officer’s attorney argued the he justifiably “feared for his life” when he shot and killed a fleeing, unarmed man after a traffic stop.
Closing arguments by attorneys ended the trial of the white ex-officer, Zechariah Presley, after three days of testimony. He is charged with voluntary manslaughter and violating his oath of office in the June 20, 2018, shooting of 31-year-old Tony Green, who was black, in coastal Camden County near the Georgia-Florida state line.
While the jury saw video from Presley’s body camera, the shooting and the moments preceding it were obscured by darkness on a poorly lit street and at one point by something covering the camera lens. The evidence indicated a short struggle between Presley and Green, but prosecutors accused the officer of exaggerating that they had a full-blown fight.
“He made a fatal mistake and it was a mistake that cost a man his life,” prosecutor Rocky Bridges said of Presley. “You don’t have to like Tony Green. …He ran from the police, not a good decision. But he was not armed. He did not turn on officer Presley. He did not deserve to die.”
Defense attorney Adrienne Browning accused investigators of spending hours examining the video and picking the most damaging parts to second guess Presley’s split-second decision to open fire. She blamed Green for deciding to fight Presley after a foot chase rather than just running away.
“Tony Green was not shot because of misdemeanor offenses,” Browning said. “He was shot because of bad decision after bad decision, until the threat was overwhelming and Zech feared for his life.”
The night of the shooting, Presley was on duty as a Kingsland police officer when he began following Green’s car. Presley said he took up the pursuit because he knew Green was driving on a suspended license.
Dash camera video showed Green left the car and started running after the vehicle went off the road. He returned to the car briefly and retrieved an unseen item before running again. Presley testified he feared Green had grabbed a gun. Investigators later determined it was a cellphone.
Body camera video shows Presley chased Green on foot. But the moments before the shooting are obscured by darkness and something covering the camera lens. The recording includes the electrified clicking sound of Presley’s Taser, followed by eight gunshots.
Another officer arrives afterward to find Presley lying on the ground. Presley tells him about a struggle and then says: “And then I was going for my gun, and he started taking off. And I fired.”
On the witness stand Wednesday, Presley said he believes he stunned himself with his own Taser during a fight with Green, and that Green ran a short distance before turning back to face him.
“He had just attacked me, been on top of me, and I was just Tased, and he was going for my duty belt,” Presley told the jury. “… I see his face, the front of his body, and I see something extended towards me, and that’s when my training … kicked in and I fired my duty weapon.”
Bridges said that prior to the trial, Presley never mentioned Green turning back to face him.
Dr. Edmond Donoghue, a GBI medical examiner, said the autopsy showed Green was shot eight times in his chest, lower back and hips. Green also had small amounts of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and a tranquilizer in his system.
The shooting of a black man by a white officer sparked protests by Green’s relatives and other black residents of Kingsland. They argued a manslaughter charge wasn’t severe enough for Presley, who was fired after the shooting. The grand jury that indicted Presley rejected charging him with murder.
Voluntary manslaughter in Georgia is punishable by one to 20 years in prison. Violation of a public officer’s oath of office is punishable by a prison term of one to five years.
© Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.