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Arkansas Judge Orders Death Penalty In Police Shooting

In April 2011, Jerry Lard was found guilty of capital murder after he shot Trumann law enforcement officer Jonathan Schmidt in the face as he begged for his life. A Greene County jury and judge sentenced Lard to death for the crime on August 4, 2012. Death penalty cases in the state of Arkansas are automatically appealed, so his criminal lawyer, Katherine Streett, would not comment on the pending case.
 
The prosecutor, Scott Ellington, does not recommend the death sentence lightly. However, in this case, he believed there were no other options. In addition to killing Officer Schmidt, Lard also shot at Sgt. Corey Overstreet but missed hitting him. Ellington expressed his gratitude to the jury for their strong stance in this difficult case. The defense attorneys do not condone the defendant’s actions but claim mental incompetency.

The back-up officer at the scene, Overstreet, testified in court. Schmidt initiated a routine traffic stop in which Lard was a passenger in the vehicle. Schmidt asked him for basic identification information, which the defendant provided. Schmidt called in the information to dispatch. As he approached Lard, who remained in the vehicle, the defendant reached out with a gun and began shooting Schmidt. When Overstreet attempted to come to Schmidt’s aid, Lard pointed his gun at him. Overstreet took cover between the cars as he heard gunfire. Schmidt helped Overstreet stand up after he fell.
 
The dashboard cameras in the police vehicles recorded the incident. Lard shot Schmidt four times, although a protective vest took the brunt of one of the shots. Schmidt is survived by his wife and children.
 
Although Lard is the 38th death-row inmate in Arkansas, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled lethal injection as unconstitutional early in 2012. No executions have been performed since the ruling.
 
Police and law enforcement personnel put their lives on the line daily to keep communities safe. In the line of duty, they sometimes need protection from those they serve. When individuals shoot at the police or commit other serious crimes against law enforcement, they should be punished to the full extent of the law. This will accomplish several purposes. First of all, harsh penalties for assaults against law enforcement will send a strong message to would-be criminals. The community as a whole will feel a level of increased safety when criminals receive strict sanctions. Law enforcement personnel and those considering this as a career will know they are protected by the criminal justice system.
 
While some defendants have serious mental health issues that need to be addressed prior to sentencing, other criminals seem to use mental deficiencies as a justification for any type of behavior. Unfortunately, society cannot afford to excuse violence because of mental illness. While society has a responsibility to care for the mentally ill, defendants who claim mental incompetence need to be assessed as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The criminal justice system needs to implement a solid plan of action to bring the defendant to a place where he can be held accountable for his behavior. If that is not possible, the individual should be placed in an appropriate facility. The needs and rights of the accused should be balanced with the safety of the community as a whole.
 
This article was written by Jenny Kim, client manager for Price Benowitz Criminal Defense


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