CLAYTON (AP) — Jurors found a man guilty Friday of fatally shooting a St. Louis County police officer in 2016 after he talked on social media and in text messages about wanting to die in a “suicide by cop” encounter.
The first-degree murder conviction will send Trenton Forster, 20, to life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors announced previously they wouldn’t seek the death penalty for the October 2016 killing of Blake Snyder, 33, of Edwardsville, Illinois, who was slain while responding to a disturbance call in the suburban Green Park area.
Police said Forster was banging on the door of a girl he knew who lived in a home in the neighborhood. When Snyder approached Forster, who by then was in a car parked outside the home, Forster opened fire on the officer, police said. Snyder left behind a wife and 2-year-old son.
The defense conceded Forster shot Snyder, leaving jurors to decide whether he was guilty of first- or second-degree murder.
Forster showed little reaction to the verdict while his mother sobbed.
Snyder’s widow, Elizabeth Snyder, walked out of the courtroom to a hall where relatives and supporters exchanged hugs. Several dozen police officers were in the hallway.
Assistant prosecutor Alan Key told jurors during the trial that Forster told Snyder’s partner, “Shoot me, I have a gun,” though Forster’s pistol had jammed. Snyder’s partner shot Forster several times.
During closing arguments Friday, Key portrayed Forster as a “liar” and “manipulator” who had strong anti-police, anti-government beliefs and had been on a “massive bender.” He also argued that Forster planned the killing, describing 10 times Forster tried to obtain a gun before succeeding, and that he had told people he wanted a confrontation with police, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
He said Snyder responded to the disturbance call even though he was near the end of his shift and not the closest officer to the scene.
“Snyder jumps a call at 5 in the morning at the end of his shift and goes, ‘Hey Bud’” as he walked up to the driver’s side of Forster’s car,” Key said. “That’s the kind of guy he was. There to defuse the situation, be nice, be polite. And it cost him his life.”
Stephen Reynolds, Forster’s public defender, argued his client should get second-degree murder, citing a “diminished capacity” because of Forster’s history of trauma, mental illness and drug use. The charge would have carried a 30-year sentence and the possibility of parole. He said jurors had to decide whether Forster’s mental illness left him unable to deliberate before he shot Snyder.
“Did his bipolar manic phase of his illness impact his behavior, impact his cognition, awareness of his surroundings, so that he could deliberate?” Reynolds asked.
He said the night of the shooting, Forster wasn’t aware of anything until Snyder said, “Hey Bud,” and he reacted.
Forster’s father testified Thursday he called St. Louis County police the day before Snyder was killed to report that his son was a danger and he would like police to pick him up. William Forster testified he was concerned because he knew his son was getting high and driving.
A police officer told him they couldn’t pick up someone unless he was a danger to himself or others, William Forster said. He could not recall whether he told the officer his son had a gun.
Sentencing was set for April 18.