Drunk NJ cop who killed friend to get prison time reduced
DEPTFORD — A former township cop has been found guilty of killing his friend by shooting him in the face.
This was the second time a jury convicted James A. Stuart, 34.
Stuart was tried a second time after an appellate court last year threw out his 2015 conviction because the jury had not been properly instructed.
Stuart had been serving a 30-year prison sentence on the original conviction. But because this time he was found guilty of reckless manslaughter, the most he could face is a 10-year sentence.
Stuart killed David Compton after a night of drinking on Jan. 5, 2013.
Stuart said he had four beers and a shot during four hours at the bar and then had another two beers and a large scotch at home. His blood-alcohol content four hours after the shooting was 0.144. The legal limit for driving is 0.08.
The two friends were watching a movie when Stuart said they started playing with his guns, which Stuart said he had unloaded.
Stuart claimed that the shooting, which killed his friend six days later, was an accident.
But Assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor Dana Anton argued that Stuart disregarded his training about handling weapons while drunk.
Stuart testified that he did not know what happened after he woke up in the living room and picked up a gun that his friend had been "dry firing." Stuart said he pulled the trigger, believing it was unloaded.
Prosecutors said Stuart then disturbed the crime scene by moving the two handguns upstairs.
An appellate decision last year ruled that a defendant cannot be found guilty of both knowing murder and aggravated manslaughter of the same victim. The appellate decision said juries are supposed to be instructed to consider manslaughter only after finding the defendant not guilty of murder.
The jury in the first trial found him not guilty of purposeful murder and weapons charges, so he was not retired on those charges.
During the first trial, prosecutors pointed out that Stuart called police dispatch and did not say that he had shot his friend, saying only that a man had been playing with a loaded weapon.
Prosecutors also said the bullet wound had a downward trajectory, indicating he had been standing over his friend.
Stuart, who remains locked up, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 19 before Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson sitting in Woodbury.