WOODBINE, Ga. – A former Georgia police officer who fatally shot a fleeing, unarmed black man was acquitted Saturday of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges.
The Camden County jury that had deliberated for nearly three days did find Zechariah Presley guilty of violating his oath of office in the shooting of Tony Green, 33, after a June 2018 traffic stop.
Presley was ordered to be jailed pending sentencing Oct. 18. He faces a prison term of one to five years.
Green’s relatives wiped away tears after the verdict was read. Presley sat silently at the defense table.
Green's father, Wayne Anderson, and several of his supporters were not satisfied with the verdict.
"My son was murdered," Anderson said. "The man that murdered my son gets to go home to his sons ... and can only possibly serve 1 to 5 (years) for murder. This ought to serve notice to a lot of our young black men and black men, period, that you can run up and down the football field, you can run on down the courts, you can hit baseballs, you can do it. But at the end of the day, when I see you, they see a black man."
Pastor Mack De’Von Knight, whose church Green attended, denounced the acquittals outside the courthouse, saying the evidence was “open and shut.”
“He admitted that he killed Tony Green in cold blood,” Knight said. “To me, it’s hunting season for the young black man and we’re being gunned down in the streets and there’s no repercussions, there’s no consequences for these officers.”
Though Presley’s body camera recorded his fatal encounter with Green, darkness and something covering the camera lens obscured the shooting and the moments leading up to it. That left the jury to weigh Presley’s court testimony recalling what had occurred with a sometimes conflicting account by prosecutors and investigators.
Both sides were dissatisfied by the verdict. Presley's attorney said she will appeal the one-count conviction. Green's supporters held signs and chanted outside the courthouse after the trial
"We kept it quietly, we kept it locally, but this needs to be nationally known right now," Anderson said.
20 hours of deliberations before verdict
The day was eventful from the start as the only black member of the jury got fell ill and Judge Stephen Scarlett Sr. decided deliberations would continue with an alternate juror. Soon afterward Scarlett allowed jurors to hear several hours of audio recordings of testimony heard during the trial before deliberations started again around 4 p.m. Saturday.
Around 5:30 p.m. the jury sent word it had decided the verdicts on two of the three counts. The jury decided to continue deliberations and came back with a final verdict around 6:15 p.m.
Presley could have faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been convicted of the manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Tony Green after a traffic stop and confrontation.
Deliberations began Thursday afternoon and jurors continued for more than 10 hours on Friday without reaching a verdict.
Testimony during the trial indicated there was a foot chase and a brief struggle between the men. Green was pulled over for speeding that night. Presley ended up shooting Green eight times.
Presley testified Green turned back to face him as he was running and that Presley feared Green was armed. Investigators determined Green held a cellphone.
During the process, the jury rewatched video recorded by Presley's body camera multiple times Darkness and something covering Presley’s body camera obscured the details. Presley was recorded telling another officer afterward: “He started taking off. And I fired.”
On Thursday, a prosecutor asked jurors to convict Presley for a “fatal mistake,” but a defense attorney argued that the officer justifiably “feared for his life” when he shot and killed Green.
The evidence indicated a short struggle between Presley and Green, but prosecutors accused the officer of exaggerating that they had a full-blown fight.
“He made a fatal mistake and it was a mistake that cost a man his life,” prosecutor Rocky Bridges said of Presley. “You don’t have to like Tony Green. ...He ran from the police, not a good decision. But he was not armed. He did not turn on officer Presley. He did not deserve to die.”
Defense attorney Adrienne Browning accused investigators of spending hours examining the video and picking the most damaging parts to second guess Presley’s split-second decision to open fire. She blamed Green for deciding to fight Presley after a foot chase rather than just running away.
“Tony Green was not shot because of misdemeanor offenses,” Browning said. “He was shot because of bad decision after bad decision until the threat was overwhelming and Zech feared for his life.”