Soldier was killed by his roommate, police say

The man’s former sergeant calls the death a break-up suicide, is released on bond

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

An Army Ranger found dead in his Gaithersburg apartment in September was shot and killed by his roommate, police now say.

Gary James Smith, 24, was charged last week with first-degree murder in the death of Michael Anthony McQueen, a soldier who had recently moved to the area in his transition to civilian life.

The 22-year-old, who had just finished his third tour in Afghanistan, was found dead in his Steamside apartment about 1 a.m. Sept. 26 with a gunshot wound to his head, police said.

After more than a month of investigation and forensic testing, officials determined that the death was a homicide and police say Smith pulled the trigger.

During a bond hearing on Friday, Smith’s lawyer denied his client was the shooter and said McQueen killed himself over a recent breakup.

But according to charging documents, Smith gave police several differing accounts of what happened and disposed of the murder weapon.

District Court Judge Barry Hamilton ruled that Smith was not a flight risk and set bond at $250,000 provided he stayed with his parents in Rockville. Smith posted bond and was released Saturday.

McQueen’s father called the bond decision ‘‘unfair.”

‘‘I can’t recall, in 30 years of covering trials, a person being released on bond in first-degree murder,” Michael McQueen, bureau chief of the Associated Press in New Orleans, said by phone Monday.

McQueen and his wife learned of Smith’s arrest shortly after it happened Thursday. They did not have time to fly to Maryland to be at Friday’s hearing, and he said his absence was likely noticeable.

Several supporters of Smith came to the hearing, and a friend of the family spoke.

‘‘We had no opportunity to respond to this in any way, shape or form,” McQueen said.

Friends and neighbors at the hearing characterized Smith as a natural leader who has been troubled by his recent military service in war zones.

Smith, who was also McQueen’s sergeant, served several tours in the Middle East, his lawyer said.

At Smith’s hearing last week, Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Hill, who is trying the case, said that Smith killed ‘‘his army buddy, his friend,” and then hid the murder weapon, a .38 caliber gun. Hill did not provide a motive.

According to charging documents, Smith gave police several differing accounts of the late night incident, which occurred at Streamside Apartments in the 400 block of North Summit Avenue.

Smith first told police that he found McQueen sitting in the apartment’s living room with a gunshot wound.

In a second version, he told detectives he and McQueen had gone for drinks at a local bar. Smith dropped McQueen off at home to run some errands and, when he returned, McQueen was dead with a gun in his hand.

Smith said he panicked and drove to a nearby lake to throw away the weapon.

In yet another story, Smith said McQueen shot himself while Smith was in the bathroom. He again said he threw the gun in the lake, according to the documents filed by police.

Karen and Ray Moon, who live in the apartment building, said they heard Smith hysterical, yelling, ‘‘My roommate’s dead” as police arrived.

Smith had gun residue on his hands, Hill said. He later took police to find the gun.

Smith’s attorney Andrew V. Jezic maintained that the case was a suicide, prompted by a recent break up. Smith had no reason to harm McQueen, he said.

‘‘There are no facts that could establish a motive,” Jezic said.

McQueen’s father said this week that his son had initiated the break up with a high school sweetheart that summer and was not distraught.

In an earlier interview, he described his son as the ‘‘most upbeat, positive, happy person. Everyday was an opportunity to go out and have some fun.”

McQueen never spoke of Smith, who was only an acquaintance, his father said.

They moved in together in August, and McQueen was looking for part-time work in politics or the defense contracting industry, his father said.

McQueen was accepted to the University of the District of Columbia for spring semester.

Steven Esrig of Darnestown, a friend of the Smith family, said Smith was a leader in the community and a trustworthy, disciplined person.

‘‘In my lifetime, I have not been able to meet such a ... moral young man,” he said during Smith’s bond hearing.

Esrig, CEO of Stelor Productions, a media company that develops children content, said Smith has been offered a job at the Gaithersburg office, which he will begin this week while out on bond.

Jezic also said Smith is enrolled at Montgomery College and will begin counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.

A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 3.