ATLANTA Dec 16 A former Georgia policeman was
found guilty of murder on Friday in the death of a suspect
shocked repeatedly with a Taser while handcuffed, media
reported, in a rare criminal conviction of a law enforcement
officer for a stun gun-related fatality.
A second ex-policeman charged in the April 2014 death of
Gregory Towns, 24, was convicted of lesser offenses, including
involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, according to the
Atlanta-Journal Constitution newspaper and several area
television news outlets.
WSB-TV reported that a Fulton County jury deliberated for
just 30 minutes before delivering its verdicts against the two
defendants - former police Sergeant Marcus Eberhart and former
police Corporal Howard Weems.
Both were members of the police department in the Atlanta
suburb of East Point. They are to be sentenced on Wednesday.
In addition to felony murder, Eberhart was also convicted of
aggravated assault, reckless conduct and violation of his oath.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, the
Atlanta-Journal Constitution said.
Weems faces up to 10 years in prison for his manslaughter
conviction alone, according to the newspaper.
A grand jury indicted the two officers in August 2015 amid a
heightened national debate over the use of lethal force by
police, especially in confrontations with minorities. Towns and
the two policemen charged in his death were all black.
Police departments around the United States have faced
numerous wrongful death civil lawsuits attributed to Tasers or
use of the stun guns as part of an overall use of force by
officers leading to a death. However, there have been few if any
criminal murder convictions of an officer stemming directly from
the misuse of a Taser.
According to prosecutors, Eberhart and Weems shocked Towns
with Tasers more than a dozen times when he refused to walk to a
patrol car as he was being taken into custody.
District attorney Paul Howard said Towns told officers he
was out of breath and unable to stand immediately after fleeing
the scene of a reported domestic dispute.
After collapsing several times and repeated stun gun jolts,
Towns lapsed into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead a
short time later, Howard said.
An autopsy found the direct cause of death was "electric
stimulation" but also said Towns was suffering from
"hypertensive cardiovascular disease" at the time.
Court records show that expert witnesses for the defense
contended that Towns was in ill health from an enlarged heart
and high blood pressure.
(Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Editing by
Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)