MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Another judge has been appointed to preside over the pending murder trial of a Montgomery police officer.
The Alabama Supreme Court has appointed retired Circuit Judge Philip Ben McLauchlin, Jr., of Dale County to preside over the trial of MPD officer Aaron “Cody” Smith. McLauchlin is expected to choose the new venue for the trial.
This appointment comes after another judge, retired Appellate Judge Samuel Henry Welch, Jr., recused.
WSFA 12 News reported Monday that the state’s top court had appointed Welch to the case. In that report, WSFA 12 News brought to light that Welch had previous involvement with the case by ruling against two defense petitions before the Court or Criminal Appeals. Welch recused not long after.
Welch was selected to oversee the case because all of the circuit judges in Montgomery County had previously recused.
Smith is charged with murder in the Feb. 25, 2016 on-duty shooting death of Gregory Gunn.
Smith’s attorneys argue the officer acted in self-defense when he fired the fatal shots. In July 2018, he was denied immunity from prosecution, with Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin commenting during the hearing that he did not find Smith’s testimony “credible.”
“I have to admit to you I didn’t find the officer’s testimony credible,” he stated. “I don’t feel you have met the burden of proof.”
Smith’s attorneys filed a petition with Alabama Supreme Court for immunity in the case, or a new judge and a change of venue. In January, the high court denied Smith’s petition for immunity from prosecution but agreed Griffin should recuse and the trial should be moved.
According to the Alabama Bar, McLauchlin is the second longest serving judge in Alabama and served on the Alabama Sentencing Commission, which reviews issues of sentencing standards and prison overcrowding. He also served as chair of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission and was responsible for enforcing the Canons of Judicial Ethics.