Former Army Ranger enters plea in 2006 death of his roommate in Gaithersburg, avoiding third trial.
by Virginia Terhune
This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. May 18, 2015. It was corrected at 7:30 p.m. May 19, 2015. An explanation follows the story.
A former Army Ranger accused of killing his roommate in Gaithersburg in 2006 has reached a plea agreement that lets him go free after serving more than five years in prison.
On Thursday, Gary James Smith, 32, now living in Olney, entered an Alford plea in Montgomery Circuit Court to involuntary manslaughter in the death of fellow soldier Michael McQueen.
An Alford plea means Smith does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there is evidence that could convict him.
Twice, Smith was convicted of killing McQueen, but both convictions were thrown out on appeal. A third trial had been scheduled for this month.
As part of the agreement, Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless endangerment.
“He wanted a compromise that would end this,” his attorney, Andrew Jezic, said Thursday about the agreement reached with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office and McQueen’s family.
The end result is that Smith is free to continue studying engineering at Montgomery College and working as a carpenter.
“It means I now have a chance to move on with my life, go to school and be with my family members,” Smith said Thursday.
Representatives of McQueen’s family could not be reached for comment.
“Today’s sentencing of Gary Smith, Jr., is the culmination of years of effort in holding him accountable in the death of Michael McQueen,” Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, wrote in an email Thursday. “It won’t bring the victim back but hopefully it can start the family on the road to healing.”
Smith was originally charged with murder after police found McQueen, 22, dead of a gunshot wound inside the Gaithersburg apartment he shared with Smith. Smith was found outside the apartment crying and covered in blood.
The question for a jury to decide was whether Smith shot McQueen or whether McQueen committed suicide, Jezic said.
In Smith’s first trial in 2008, the jury found him not guilty of first- and second-degree murder, but guilty of depraved heart murder, a crime which is not intentional, Jezic said.
The jury’s verdict was overturned by the state’s Court of Appeals in 2011.
In Smith’s second trial in 2012, the jury found Smith not guilty of depraved heart murder, but guilty of involuntary manslaughter. That conviction was overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals last August.
Smith was released from prison in October and has been living under house arrest until the plea agreement was reached in April, Smith’s criminal defense attorney Jezic said.
Under the agreement, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Dugan Jr. gave Smith credit for time served in prison and ordered a period of unsupervised probation. Smith will not be allowed to have firearms for 18 months, Jezic said.
If Smith had gone through another jury trial, he would have run the risk of being found guilty, Jezic said.
Smith said that would mean losing more time than he already has missed with family and friends, including his elderly grandparents.
“It was hard not to be there for them during my two stints in prison,” said Smith, who spent time in Hagerstown-area and Salisbury prisons while waiting for state appeals courts to rule in his case.
Last weekend, Smith said he went to the beach with his girlfriend after not seeing the Atlantic Ocean for nine years.
“It was great. We had a phenomenal time,” he said.
According to the agreement, Smith may ask for a reconsideration of his Alford plea for involuntary manslaughter in 4½ years and ask for probation before judgment.
If granted, the involuntary manslaughter can be expunged from his record, Jezic said, but the reckless endangerment charge will remain.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said McQueen was convicted in the 2008 trial.
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