- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A blood-spatter expert cast doubt yesterday on the prosecution’s theory that shapes in bloodstained carpet show how close an Army Ranger was to the fellow soldier he’s accused of killing.

Sgt. Gary J. Smith, 25, is on trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville for murder in the fatal shooting of his roommate and fellow Ranger, Spc. Michael A. McQueen II, 22, in September 2006. The defense contends that Spc. McQueen shot himself and that Sgt. Smith dumped the gun in a nearby lake to cover for his buddy.

The barrel of the gun was pressed against Spc. McQueen’s temple as he was shot, meaning the prosecution must prove Sgt. Smith was close enough to have pulled the trigger. A blood-spatter expert called by the state, William T. Vosburgh, testified last week that he found the outlines of a shoe and a human hand in the pool of blood next to Spc. McQueen, who died while sitting in a folding chair in the Gaithersburg apartment he shared with Sgt. Smith.

Herbert MacDonell, director of the Laboratory for Forensic Science in Corning, N.Y., disputed Mr. Vosburgh’s conclusions yesterday, saying a void in the bloodstain was the wrong shape to have been created by the sneaker Sgt. Smith was wearing when Spc. McQueen died.

“The sneaker itself is much too round to create a pointed void pattern such as that,” Mr. MacDonell said. “My conclusion was it was not the object that intercepted blood.”

While there was blood on Sgt. Smith’s shoe, Mr. MacDonell testified that there was not enough blood on it for it to have been in the path of gushing blood immediately after the gunshot.

“If it were the object that intercepted blood, there should be more blood on the top of the sneaker,” Mr. MacDonell said.

Mr. MacDonell also said that he had first been contacted by the prosecution before deciding to lend his expertise to the defense.

Sgt. Smith told police in a videotaped interview that he brought the .38-caliber handgun from his mother’s house to the apartment on the night Spc. McQueen died. He said he warned Spc. McQueen that the gun was loaded and went to the bathroom, and that he heard the shot when he emerged from the bathroom 10 to 15 minutes later.

Sgt. Smith’s attorney, Andrew Jezic, argues that his client got blood on his shoe, his clothing and his hand when he walked over to Spc. McQueen to check his pulse and remove the gun.

Earlier yesterday, prosecutors rested their case after they played the conclusion of Sgt. Smith’s interview with police. During the interview, Sgt. Smith frequently changed his story about what exactly happened, and he continued to introduce new details even as he settled on a final account of the night Spc. McQueen died.

More than six hours after the interview began, Sgt. Smith, 25, told Montgomery County Detective James Drewry that he loaded the handgun that killed Spc. McQueen before bringing it into their Gaithersburg apartment.

“I swear I’m telling the truth,” Sgt. Smith said.

“You’ve done that before,” Detective Drewry responded.

Sgt. Smith also struggled to maintain a consistent account of how he carried the gun, twice saying he put it in his pants pocket only to correct himself and say he wrapped it in a shirt.

The defendant said he showed the gun to Spc. McQueen, who was sitting in a chair watching TV, and warned him it was loaded. Sgt. Smith said he then went to the bathroom, and when he emerged minutes later, he heard the shot and saw blood flowing from Spc. McQueen’s head.

After checking his roommate’s pulse to confirm that he was dead and spending a few minutes in what he called “panic mode,” Sgt. Smith told the detectives, he threw the .38-caliber revolver into a nearby lake before returning to the apartment and calling 911. Defense attorney Andrew Jezic has said his client did not want his Ranger buddy to be thought of as a suicide victim.

Sgt. Smith told detectives that he was worried because the gun was his, because he and Spc. McQueen had been drinking and smoking marijuana and because nobody else had seen Spc. McQueen die.

Prosecutors have seized on Sgt. Smith’s conflicting statements and such forensic evidence as blood spatter as proof Sgt. Smith killed his roommate.

Also yesterday, three police officers testified that Sgt. Smith appeared distraught when they arrived at the scene. “He was crying, throwing up,” said Officer Rick Hillman, who arrived just minutes after the 911 call.

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