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Trial to start for man in Ark. officer's death

A man charged with fatally shooting an Arkansas police officer last year is expected to go on trial for capital murder this week.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A man charged with fatally shooting an Arkansas police officer last year is expected to go on trial for capital murder this week.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jerry Lard, who they say killed Trumann police officer Jonathan Schmidt in April 2011 following a traffic stop.

Jury selection is slated to begin Monday in Paragould - about 35 miles from the small Delta town where witnesses told The Associated Press Schmidt heroically pushed a fellow officer out of harm's way before he died. Lard is also charged with attempted capital murder for shooting at the other officer, Corey Overstreet.

Lawyers for Lard, 38, wrote in court filings that they plan to argue he has a mental disease or defect.

His attorneys and prosecutors declined to comment ahead of the trial because a judge barred them from talking publicly about the case.

Lard's trial comes after the state Supreme Court last month threw out Arkansas' lethal injection law, effectively leaving the state without steps to execute any of its death row inmates.

Lard's lawyers said the high court's decision should pull the death penalty off the table in Lard's case, but Circuit Judge Brent Davis ruled that the high court didn't strike down the death penalty.

"The fact that there's this question about how the person will be executed should they get the death penalty ... that's a different issue from how this murder trial is going to proceed," said Felecia Epps, who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Authorities said Schmidt pulled over Keith Elumbaugh after a license plate check raised questions about his car insurance.

Lard was in the back seat. Elumbaugh told the AP last year that Schmidt was smiling and joking with the people in the car after mispronouncing Elumbaugh's name.

Then, when Schmidt opened the car door where Lard was sitting, Lard lunged at the policeman and started shooting, Elumbaugh said.

Schmidt, hit by a bullet, managed to get Overstreet behind the car and out of the line of fire, Elumbaugh said.

Once Overstreet was behind Schmidt's police car, Schmidt turned back toward Lard and began to return fire.

While he was shooting, Elumbaugh said, Lard was cursing Schmidt, saying "Die, (expletive)!"

"Please don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me," Schmidt cried out, Elumbaugh said.

Prosecutors said in a court document that Lard killed Schmidt to avoid an arrest in an outstanding felony rape case.

Lard is also charged with unlawfully possessing a gun and methamphetamine.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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