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Murder charge in Ky. police shooting

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Michael Newby's extra-large jogging pants were falling down as he rushed out of the house. "Boy, you better get a rope or a belt or something for those," Jerry Bouggess told his slender stepson, who was heading out for a Saturday night.

That was the last conversation they would have.

Early the next morning, Newby, 19, was dead, shot in the back three times by an undercover Louisville police officer during a drug bust. Newby was the seventh black man killed by police in the past five years in this city of nearly 700,000, where blacks make up about 20 percent of the population.

Unlike the past killings, however, this one led to murder charges against the officer, McKenzie G. Mattingly, a white man who had been on the force for about six years. But legal specialists and local activists are skeptical the case will end in a murder conviction.

"Just because somebody is shot in the back doesn't mean it's a criminal act," said Tim Apolito, a criminal justice professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. "It's a quantum leap from somebody getting indicted to actually being convicted."

Jefferson County prosecutor David Stengel said the Jan. 3 slaying appeared all along to be a "bad shooting," in part because of the shots in the back.

Mattingly, 31, pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

Apolito, a former police officer in Ohio, said prosecutors face significant hurdles.

"It's hard for prosecutors to show intent to kill when an officer has to react quickly in a potentially dangerous situation," he said. "You would have to demonstrate not that he did this accidentally but just clearly intended to take this person's life. And that is usually a difficult thing to do, because police officers -- even when they take someone's life -- don't do it with the purpose of taking somebody's life. They do it with the goal of eliminating that person's ability to harm them or someone else."

Activists who have protested recent shootings by police say they are not optimistic Mattingly will be convicted of murder.

"The burden of proof is so heavy" for prosecutors, said Shelby Lanier, a former Louisville officer who has protested shootings by the department.

The federal government does not keep national figures on fatal police shootings. But clearly it can be difficult to win a conviction.

In Connecticut, Scott Smith, a white New Milford officer who shot a black man to death, was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter in 2000. The verdict was later overturned on appeal, and Smith is awaiting a new trial on the manslaughter charge.

In 1999, West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by four white undercover police officers in New York City. The officers said they thought Diallo was reaching for a gun. They were acquitted of criminal charges.

Last year in Louisville, a grand jury did not find enough evidence to indict two white officers in the shooting death of a handcuffed black man who had lunged at an officer with a box cutter.

Police said Newby was shot during an undercover drug buy in predominantly black western Louisville. Police said Newby was carrying a .45-caliber handgun, and a powdery substance, believed to be cocaine, was found on him after the shooting.

Mattingly has not spoken publicly about the shooting. His attorney, Steve Schroering, said Mattingly is certain his actions were necessary. He predicted his client would be exonerated.

Newby's slaying raised racial tensions in Louisville and prompted protests outside the police station and at the mayor's house.

Mattingly's friends, meanwhile, staged a rally for him last month. About two dozen uniformed officers, all of them white, attended his arraignment. About 15 percent of Louisville's 1,200-member police force is black.

Bouggess and Newby's mother, Angela Newby-Bouggess, came face-to-face with Mattingly for the first time during the officer's March 8 arraignment.

"My faith doesn't allow me to hate. So I can't hate him, and Ann doesn't either," Bouggess said.

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