Judge rejects request for mistrial in Smithson murder trial; jury expected to begin deliberations today
By Wayne Thomas, staff writer
The murder trial of Jeffrey Smithson continued in Coffee County Circuit Court Thursday.
Smithson is accused of murdering his 81-year-old aunt, Virginia White, in August 2011 at her residence at Ingram Place duplex home in Manchester.
Smithson was arrested on Aug. 18, 2011, and charged with murdering White.
Her body was found after neighbors became concerned because they had not seen her in approximately 24 hours. The last anyone had heard from her was when her son spoke to her on the phone the night before.
Day two of the trial saw defense attorney Margo Kilgore call for a mistrial after a Manchester police officer repeated information that he received when he arrived at Ms. White’s apartment on Aug. 17, 2011, to check on her welfare.
The officer stated Thursday at the trial that an individual told him that Smithson had just been released from prison, but in reality he had been out of prison for some time.
Jeffrey Smithson was apprehended by police one day after his aunt was found dead in Aug. 2011. Pictured, Manchester Investigator Billy Butler speaks with Smithson after he was placed in handcuffs in a field in Cannon County. (File photo by Josh Peterson)
Kilgore argued to Circuit Court Judge Vanessa Jackson that the statement was not true and “was prejudicial” against her client.
“It is planted in their (jury’s) minds,” Kilgore argued. But Coffee County District Attorney Mickey Layne argued that the judge could instruct the jury that the statement was not accurate and “they should disregard it.” Judge Jackson instructed the jury that the statement was inaccurate and they should put it out of their minds.
Manchester police officer Sgt., Justin Smith, who was the first officer on the scene, testified that he entered the apartment and found that the only light was from the television set. He and other officers started a search of the apartment and located Ms. White’s body in a bedroom.
“I secured the area and called for my supervisor and investigators,” Smith testified.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Kendal Barham testified that when he arrived to assist Manchester investigators there was only a “minor sign of a struggle” in the home when he went into the bedroom.
According to the testimony, Barham checked to see how tight the pantyhose were around the victim’s neck.
“I could not put my finger between the pantyhose and her skin,” the TBI agent testified. “I could see blood at the base of her hair line.”
He added that he did not turn her body over, as he wanted to preserve it as much as he could for the medical examiners to check.
White’s son Timothy Stewart testified that he purchased his mother a cell phone. When he tried to call her on Aug. 17 he could not reach her. That is when he called a neighbor to get her to check on his mother. The neighbor informed Stewart that there were no lights on in Ms. White’s apartment.
Barham and Manchester Police Department Chief Investigator Billy Butler each testified that when Smithson was arrested on Aug. 18 in Cannon County he made statements to the investigators about the murder.
According to the police officers’ testimony, Smithson’s written statement at the time of his arrest stated that he was sick when Ms. White entered his bedroom because “he had been out of morphine and needed some.”
According to the testimony, he told the officers that she approached him and scolded him about being a drug addict. He said that she then slapped him as he was sitting on a chest in the bedroom. He also stated that he stood up and struck her and that she did not fight back.
According to the officers’ testimony, he said that he knew he killed her.
According to the officers, Smithson told them that he then reached in a chest of drawers and got a pair of panty hose and tied them around White’s neck.
“The panty hose were so tight that part of her shirt was tangled up in them,” Barham testified.
He allegedly told the officer that he then retrieved jewelry from a box and took them to White’s 1989 Mercury and drove away from the apartment.
When Smithson was found in Cannon County he was sitting in her car and her jewelry was found in the trunk.
When that jewelry was found, it and other evidence was seized and sent to the TBI Crime Lab in Nashville for testing. Dr. Laura Boos, a TBI forensic scientist, conducted tests on the evidence, where she found DNA specimens that matched Smithson and Ms. White, according to testimony presented Thursday.
Smithson had three cell phones in his possession when arrested and Howard Patterson of the TBI assistant technical services testified to checking text messages. He noted that several of the messages pertained to his need for morphine. Several of those messages were read into the court record. A witness for the defense testified that she supplied Smithson with morphine and that several of the text messages were sent to her.
On Thursday afternoon, a representative of the state medical examiner’s office testified about the autopsy results of Ms. White’s body.
Assistant District Attorney Marla Holloway and public defender Margo Kilgore are expected to present their closing arguments to the jury today. The jury of six men and six women is expected to start deliberations this afternoon.
Wayne Thomas may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org