Former Deptford Township police officer James A.Stuart, 34, was found guilty today of reckless manslaughter in the January 5, fatal shooting of a friend, 27-year-old David Compton.
According to authorities, it was the second time Stuart faced trial on the shooting, which occurred when he was off-duty in his home in the Oak Valley section of Deptford.
Officials say Stuart’s first conviction in 2015 was reversed on appeal last year on what was ruled to be to be an erroneous jury instruction. He had served about two years of his then 30-year sentence.
Today’s conviction was on a second-degree offense that charges the defendant acted with “conscious disregard of a substantial, unjustifiable risk.” The sentencing range for a second-degree crime is five to ten years in New Jersey State Prison.
Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson scheduled sentencing for Oct. 19. At the prosecution’s request, Judge Allen-Jackson revoked Stuart’s bail and he was jailed pending sentencing. He had been released from prison after the appeals court decision.
A five-year Deptford officer, Stuart was found guilty in the first trial of knowing murder and aggravated manslaughter for firing a shot from a handgun that struck Mr. Compton in the face. Mr. Compton, an engineer, died six days later.
According to authorities, the shooting occurred in Stuart’s home after a night of drinking with Mr. Compton and others. Stuart was intoxicated at the time his gun discharged as Mr. Compton sat on a living room sofa.
The appeals court judges ruled that the jury should have considered the murder and manslaughter verdicts “sequentially” since they involve “distinctly different mental states.”
In the retrial, Stuart’s lawyer continued to stress the same defense as in his 2015 trial, that the shooting was a tragic accident and not a crime and that the defendant did what he could to render aid to Mr. Compton.
However, Assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor Dana Anton told the jury Stuart disregarded the risks he knew from his police training were inherent in handling a gun while drunk. Stuart acknowledged as much when cross-examined by Anton after he testified he did not know precisely what happened after he awoke and picked up a handgun Mr. Compton had been “dry-firing’- pulling the trigger of a presumably empty weapon.
Officials say the two had been watching an action movie that prompted Mr. Compton to ask to see Stuart’s guns. Anton noted Stuart also evidenced self-preservation when he left his mortally-wounded friend and removed his handguns from the living room, placing them in an upstairs bedroom, disturbing what had become a crime scene.