PARAGOULD, Ark. – An Arkansas man who shot a police officer during a traffic stop last year, then coldly shot him again in the face while he was pleading for his life, was sentenced to death on Saturday.
Jerry Lard was convicted Thursday of capital murder, and a Greene County judge agreed with the jury that the 38-year-old should die for killing Trumann police officer Jonathan Schmidt in April 2011.
Schmidt's father, Donald Schmidt Sr., welcomed the decision, saying the youngest of his son's three children, who turns 3 years old in October, will grow up not knowing his father.
"It's given me an overwhelming sense of relief," Schmidt said. "For some of the family members who lost their husband -- the children, they'll never get to see their father again. Only time will heal their wounds."
Lard's attorney, Katherine Streett, said the case will be automatically appealed and that she doesn't comment on ongoing cases.
Prosecutor Scott Ellington, in a statement, said seeking the death sentence always involves a lot of thought and prayer, but that he saw no other option in the case of Lard, who also fired on but missed Schmidt's partner, Sgt. Corey Overstreet, during the confrontation.
"The jury echoed the commitment of the community to protect those who protect us. I am very proud of their courage and fortitude. I know it wasn't an easy decision, but it is one that had to be made," Ellington said.
Lard's attorneys didn't deny that he killed Schmidt, but they say Lard was mentally ill or deficient and should be spared execution.
Overstreet testified that he showed up as backup last year after Schmidt pulled over a car in which Lard was a passenger.
At one point, Schmidt asked Lard his name and birthday and radioed the information back. Schmidt walked to Lard's side of the car.
"When he opened the door, a hand reached out and started shooting Jonathan," Overstreet said.
Overstreet went to reach for his gun, but he said Lard pointed his weapon at him, so he scrambled between the vehicles. He heard gunshots.
Video taken the night of the shooting from dashboard cameras in the police cars showed Schmidt helping Overstreet back onto his feet after he fell, The Jonesboro Sun reported.
Lard swore and shot at Schmidt, who said, "Please, don't shoot me again."
A medical examiner told the jury Schmidt was shot four times, in the chin, neck, right wrist and chest, though a protective vest blocked that shot.
The trial was moved from Poinsett County to Greene County at the request of the defense.
Lard becomes the 38th death row inmate in Arkansas, although the state currently can't carry out executions since the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down its lethal injection law earlier this year.