Thug who shot policeman in the face as he begged for his life sentenced to death for murder

A man who killed a police officer by shooting him in the face while he pleaded for his life has been sentenced to death.

Jerry Lard was found guilty of capital murder on Thursday, 15 months after gunning down officer Jonathan Schmidt during a routine traffic stop in Truman, Arkansas.

A judge accepted the jury's recommendation that the 38-year-old killer should receive the death sentence for his crime.

Jerry Lard
Jonathan Schmidt

Sentence: Jerry Lard, left, will receive the death penalty for the killing of police officer Jonathan Schmidt, right

The victim's father, Donald Schmidt Sr, welcomed the decision, saying the youngest of his son's three children - who turns three years old in October - will grow up not knowing his father.

'It's given me an overwhelming sense of relief,' Mr Schmidt said. 'For some of the family members who lost their husband - the children, they'll never get to see their father again. Only time will heal their wounds.'

Lard's attorney, Katherine Streett, said the case will be automatically appealed.

Prosecutor Scott Ellington, in a statement, said seeking the death sentence always involves a lot of thought and prayer, but that he saw no other option in the case of Lard, who also fired on but missed Mr Schmidt's partner, Sgt. Corey Overstreet, during the confrontation.

'The jury echoed the commitment of the community to protect those who protect us,' Mr Ellington said. 'I am very proud of their courage and fortitude. I know it wasn't an easy decision, but it is one that had to be made.'

Lard's attorneys did not deny that he killed Mr Schmidt, but they say Lard was mentally ill or deficient and should be spared execution.

In court: Lard, centre, attending a hearing in Jonesboro, Arkansas in April this year

In court: Lard, centre, attending a hearing in Jonesboro, Arkansas in April this year

Mr Overstreet testified that he showed up as backup last April after his partner pulled over a car in which Lard was a passenger.

At one point, Mr Schmidt asked Lard his name and birthday and radioed the information back. He then walked to Lard's side of the car.

'When he opened the door, a hand reached out and started shooting Jonathan,' Mr Overstreet said.

Mr Overstreet went to reach for his gun, but he said Lard pointed his weapon at him, so he scrambled between the vehicles. He heard gunshots.

Video taken the night of the shooting from dashboard cameras in the police cars showed Mr Schmidt helping Mr Overstreet back onto his feet after he fell.

Lard swore and shot at Mr Schmidt, who said: 'Please don't shoot me again.'

A medical examiner told the jury the victim was shot four times, in the chin, neck, right wrist and chest, though a protective vest blocked that shot.

Lard becomes the 38th death row inmate in Arkansas, although the state cannot currently carry out executions since the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down its lethal injection law earlier this year.