Justice appointed to MPD officer murder trial previously ruled on case

Updated: Apr. 15, 2019 at 5:10 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Retired Appellate Judge Samuel Henry Welch, Jr. has been appointed to preside over the trial of a Montgomery police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of Gregory Gunn.

Welch was appointed to the case on Friday. All of the circuit judges in Montgomery County have recused themselves from the case of MPD officer Aaron Cody Smith, who in February 2016 shot and killed Gunn, a Montgomery resident.

Welch joined other justices to deny two defense petitions to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 2017 and 2018. WSFA 12 News has put in an information request to determine whether Welch would be disqualified from presiding over the trial, but we have not received a formal response.

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.

Welch is expected to choose the new venue for the trial. Neither the defense nor the prosecution have formally commented on this appointment.

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