Smart found guilty of capital murder

Saturday, May 4, 2002

Mississippi County Circuit Court jury on Friday found Jimmy Ray Smart Jr. guilty of capital murder in the Oct. 28, 2000, death of C.B. Murphy of Manila.

Circuit Judge David Burnett of Osceola sentenced Smart, 21, to life in prison without parole. Second Judicial District prosecutor Brent Davis of Jonesboro and deputy prosecutor Bruce Harlan of Blytheville did not seek the death penalty in the case.

John Bradley of Blytheville served as defense attorney for Smart during the three day trial held at the Mississippi County Courthouse in Blytheville.

Seventeen witnesses were called to the stand during the trial that began on Wednesday morning, April 24. After almost three hours of deliberation on Friday afternoon, April 26, Burnett announced the verdict. In tears, and resisting his shackles, Smart was led from the courtroom by jailer Eric Jefferson and Mississippi County Sheriff's Department detective, Bobby Ephlin.

Smart's conviction stemmed from an attempted burglary that resulted in the murder of Murphy, 74, a neighbor of his, who lived in Davidson's Trailer Park in Manila. The prosecution proved that Smart knowingly beat Murphy with a crowbar and stabbed him with a knife and screwdriver, causing his death. Smart was on parole for theft at the time of the murder.

Charlotte Geedy of Manila was believed to be the last person (besides Smart) to see Murphy alive. Geedy was the first witness, called by the prosecution, on Wednesday afternoon. She testified that she had seen Murphy on Friday, Oct. 27. Murphy told her he was planning to go see his nephew in Missouri, and had $500 for the trip.

Murphy was well known for riding around town on his lawn mower or three wheeled bicycle. When his mower and bike did not leave his residence on Saturday, Geedy became concerned and called Murphy's home several times.

Murphy did not answer the phone, so she went to his mobile home. Unable to get him to come to the door and concerned about his health, Geedy called the Manila police to check on him.

Manila Police Captain Fred Burks arrived at Murphy's home, and upon entering discovered Murphy lying dead in a pool of blood on the floor, with a screw driver sticking out of his neck and a knife embedded in his chest. His throat had been cut.

Burks called Chief of Police Jackie Hill, and they secured the crime scene. The EMT service and later on the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department were called.

Mary Ann Clayton, 17, also a Davidson's Trailer Park neighbor, testified that Smart had told her earlier that week that he planned to kill Murphy.

She thought he was just kidding, at the time. Hearing of the murder on Saturday, she told her high school principal, the next week, what Smart had told her and was encouraged to call the police.

Hill and Burks stated that Smart voluntarily came to the police station and asked if they were looking for him. The policemen talked to Smart in Manila and read him his rights. Smart asked them if he could lay down, so they allowed him to rest in the unlocked city jail. After feeding Smart supper, they took him to Jonesboro to be interviewed by Sergeant C.A. Beall, with the Arkansas State Police. Sergeant Beall taped the conversation and confession of Smart, shortly after midnight on Oct. 29.

Ephlin testified Wednesday afternoon, detailing the crime scene at Murphy's trailer. A video of the murder scene, a diagram of the home, several hand weapons, and photographs were entered into evidence against Smart.

Ephlin testified again on Thursday morning, and reviewed the evidence collection log and information sent to the state medical examiner's office.

Frank Peretti, with the Arkansas Crime Lab, conducted the autopsy on Murphy and testified that Murphy had died from multiple stab and cutting wounds and blunt-force trauma. He stated that Murphy had cluster wounds, which usually indicate there was no struggle on the part of the victim.

Peretti said that the skull was fractured, with large portions of the skull bone embedded in Murphy's brain. In addition, Murphy had a number of stab wounds, from a screwdriver and a serrated kitchen knife.

Jennifer Swafford (Smart's sister) and her husband Wayne both testified about seeing Smart lying on the couch at their home on Friday night and Saturday morning. Swafford did not recall her brother taking a bath or washing clothes while she was there.

In Sergeant Beall's taped testimony with the accused, Smart said he blacked out after stabbing Murphy, and when he regained consciousness he went back to his home and took a bath and washed his clothes, because he had blood on him.

Smart worked occasionally for Robert Morris of Manila, helping him load and unload auction items. Morris' wife, Linda, said Smart had worked for them on Friday evening, taking furniture to the Lepanto auction. Smart and his friend, Bobby Eddings, who also helped load, did not ride home with Morris but rather caught a ride home with Jenny Marie Constant, 20, of Lepanto, and her two friends. The five young people were joined in Manila, with Smart's friend, Johnny Wise. Constant left Manila, to return to Lepanto, about 11:30 p.m.

Neighbors Jim and Doris Jones testified that Smart had walked over to their home late Friday evening, where they had been having a cookout in the front of their home, with their friends, Matthew and Lisa Pearce. Smart stayed awhile and then left.

Norma Smart, mother of the accused, testified that she worked at Osceola and had gone to Tunica, Miss., on Friday night (Oct. 27). When she arrived home at 6:30 a.m., (on Saturday) her son was asleep on the couch.

A few days following Smart's testimony to Sergeant Beall, Smart recanted his original statement and contended that Chief Hill had threatened him in to confessing the first time, and that Hill had beat him. Ephlin and Beall had both testified that they had not seen any bruises or abrasions on Smart, when they had spoken to him.

Hill denied threatening or hitting Smart.

Smart also maintained that he had not committed the crime at all, but rather his friend Bobby Eddings did it. Smart said Eddings later filled him in on the details, and that is how he knew so much about it. Smart also admitted to lying in several of his taped conversations with police.

"When hearing the confession tape, his (Smart's) voice did not reflect that he or his family had been threatened." Harlan said.

"Jimmy is an innocent man caught up in circumstances, some of his own making," defense attorney Bradley said. "I don't feel that the state has met their burden of proof."

"The physical evidence in this case is overwhelming and deliberate," Harlan said. "Smart has changed his story more than once. There is no doubt that the crime fell in the category of capital murder."

"There were details in Smart's confession, that only a killer would know," Davis said. "It is apparent that he (Smart) was there, and that he did commit the crime."

Harlan and Davis were quick to praise the work done by Hill, the Manila Police Department, Ephlin, and the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department.

"The success in this case was a result of an extremely well performed investigation, on their part," Davis said. "They deserve all the credit."

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