Jury deliberating in trial for ex-officer accused of killing Georgia man

Tony Green killed by then-Officer Zechariah Presley on June 20, 2018

By Brittany Muller - Reporter, Erik Avanier - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

WOODBINE, Ga. - A Camden County jury began deliberating manslaughter charges against a former Kingsland police officer on Thursday afternoon. Zechariah Presley is accused of killing an unarmed man during an altercation after a traffic stop in June 2018.

Presley is not contesting that he shot and killed Tony Green but contends he fired in self-defense. Presley was fired from his job and indicted by a Camden County grand jury after evidence showed Green was unarmed.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded Green was running away when Presley opened fire.

Presley testified Wednesday that he feared for his life after a struggle in which Green grabbed for the officer's Taser.

A forensic criminologist hired by the defense testified as an expert witness Thursday, saying that after analyzing the shooting, he didn't believe Presley had violated any federal or state laws.

Defense attorney Adrienne Browning told jurors in his closing argument that investigators spent hours second-guessing Presley's split-second decision to shoot a man he perceived as a deadly threat.

"What was actually in Tony Green's hand, though, that night doesn't matter. It doesn't," Browning said. "What matters is what Zechariah believed (it) to be at the time.

"Had Tony Green done one thing right that night -- didn't go back to his car, gave up, stopped resisting even after he committed felony obstruction of a police officer, obstruction with violence. If he had done one thing right, this officer would be prosecuting him."

In the state's closing argument, a prosecutor said Presley had 474 days from the shooting to the beginning of the trial to script his story to match the law.

"If he really thought he grabbed a weapon, if he really thought that's what happened, you get on the radio and call for backup. You don't run and chase after an individual with your Taser drawn," the prosecutor told the jury. "He had the opportunity to say, 'I thought I saw a gun. He pointed the gun at me. He turned on me.' You didn't hear that."

At 5:40 p.m., the trial was recessed and set to reconvene Friday morning.

Presley is facing three charges: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and violation of oath. Under Georgia law, voluntary manslaughter is a felony punishable by one to 20 years in prison. 

Zechariah PresleyTony Green's father, Wayne Anderson, sat in the first row of the courtroom waiting for the verdict.

"The only thing he (Presley) thought about was his two children and getting home to his two sons," Anderson said. "Well, my son won't be able to go home to his (boys), and that was very emotional for me."

Jurors asked to see both the dash cam video and body cam video from the night of the shooting. They asked the judge to fast-forward to the last two minutes of the body cam video.

"That last two minutes of the video was crucial to this case because the last two minutes of the video is different from the event Mr. Presley stated happened," said Timothy Bessent, a family friend.

"To hear the officer say himself that he was running away, and he fired that many times, that's appalling to me," Anderson said.

Wednesday's testimony

During his testimony, Presley said that Green had something in his hand as he ran from the officer.

"I could see his face, the front of his body, and I could see something extended toward me," Presley said. "That's when I fired my duty weapon."

The object in Green's hand turned out to be a cellphone.

Under cross-examination, Presley admitted that he never told officers investigating the police-involved shooting that he thought Green had a gun.

Green was hit by eight shots in 2.5 seconds. One bullet hit Green in the chest, but several others hit him from behind.

Presley also testified Wednesday about his first meeting with Green, which proved fateful.

Presley said he first encountered Green at a Kingsland hotel on a trespassing call in March 2018. Presley said there was no confrontation, but Green told him and a second officer that he was waiting for a ride from a family member because his driver's license was suspended.

Remembering that information, Presley said, he followed Green when he saw him get into a car at that same hotel in June.

Presley said he clocked the car going 53 mph in a 35 mph zone before it crashed and Green and a passenger got out and ran in different directions. Presley said Green briefly returned to the car and grabbed something before running away.

Presley testified that he called his dispatcher and began chasing Green.

Despite it being dark outside, body camera video of Presley's pursuit clearly shows Presley chasing Green on foot, and Presley can be heard warning Green that he is deploying a Taser.

Presley said his Taser malfunctioned, and the two men ended up on the ground with Green on top of Presley.

Presley testified that when he pulled his gun out, Green started running again. The body camera video is too dark to make out much, but gunshots are clearly heard.

Presley said when he began firing, Green turned back toward him with something in his hand.

"It is my opinion that Anthony Green died of multiple gunshot wounds. The manner of death is homicide," Dr. Edmund Donoghue, who performed the autopsy, testified Tuesday.

A defense witness on Thursday testified that officers who experience traumatic events can blank out things.

"Under intense stress, not every image is recorded -- an officer has lapses in memory," criminologist Ron Martinelli said.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.