Judge in Montgomery officer's murder case won't recuse over Facebook posts

Updated: May. 18, 2017 at 12:06 PM CDT
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Judge Greg Griffin (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Judge Greg Griffin (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Aaron Cody Smith (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
Aaron Cody Smith (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
Gregory Gunn (Source: Gunn Family)
Gregory Gunn (Source: Gunn Family)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin denied a motion Thursday to recuse himself in a high-profile murder case involving Montgomery police officer Aaron "Cody" Smith.

Defense attorney Roianne Conner argued that Facebook posts made by Griffin, which describes being stopped by Montgomery police officers while walking in his neighborhood, give the appearance of impropriety. Conner cited the post had more than 200 'likes' and had been shared more than 3,000 times.

She also pointed to comments on Griffin's post, which correlated Griffin's stop by MPD with the routine stop of Gregory Gunn, whom Smith is accused of killing.

"Some of his Facebook friends or acquaintances actually made the correlation in their comments between his stop and the stop in the Gunn case, and how they are glad he didn't get shot or didn't get killed", Conner stated. "To me, that does make a case, I believe, of the appearance of impropriety. I am very disappointed that Judge Griffin chose to say I didn't prove my case when I really feel we did."

Smith stopped Gunn as he was walking home on at 2:30 a.m. on Feb 25, 2016. An altercation occurred which ultimately led to the shooting death of Gunn. Smith was charged with murder less than a week later and indicted on Nov. 18.

Smith's attorneys maintain he used deadly force because his life was in danger, although Gunn was unarmed.

Thursday in court, Griffin dismissed arguments of any comparison between his stop by MPD, citing the officer that stopped him was black. Griffin stated he lived in west Montgomery, 'what some say is in the hood', and asked the defense if living in west Montgomery should force him to recuse from any case that occurs in west Montgomery.

"I can take this black robe off, but I can't take this black skin off," Griffin stated. "This troubles me. Y'all put race in it."

Conner flatly disagreed, stating she was not accusing Griffin of bias or partiality, but the appearance of impropriety cited in the third Canon of Judicial Ethics.

"I think it is very dangerous territory," Conner stated. "Does a reasonable person looking at the facts and circumstances, the Facebook post, the comments -- can they make a correlation between the two cases? In my opinion, they can."

Griffin stated it was liked by only approximately 250 out of his 5,000 total friends on Facebook, diminishing the amount of social media engagement.

The defense also cited a second Facebook post by Griffin, which showed a picture of Griffin, Montgomery Public Safety Director Chris Murphy, and Police Chief Ernest Finley, stating they discussed the stop in Griffin's neighborhood.

"Director Chris Murphy and Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley visited with me this morning. We discussed the incident that occurred on April 13. WE ARE OK!!", Griffin's second post stated, showing a picture of the three men together in his courtroom.

Conner is now preparing to appeal Griffin's decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

"The better part of valor would have been, this morning, to recuse so there would not be any type of appealable issue regarding the appearance of impropriety," Conner said.

The state did not argue in favor of the motion to recuse and did not comment following the hearing.

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