December 5, 2020

First state witnesses testify in Smith murder trial

(Carrollton, GA) — The attorneys on both sides presented their opening statements Wednesday morning at the murder trial of Herman Lee Smith, III of Bowdon, and each painted a different picture for the jury.

Lead prosecutor, Senior Assistant D.A. Jeff Hunt, told the jury that he would easily prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith committed cold-blooded murder.

“On November 18, 2012 Herman Lee Smith for no good reason took the life of Cardarius Steagall. Steagall was not hurting a soul at the time his soul was taken,” Hunt told the jury.

Hunt also told the jurors that Smith lied to investigators without hesitation over and over during his initial statement to police, the day after the shooting  at “Club 100” in Carroll County.

Public defender Harry Daniels gave the jury a different account of the events of November 18. “This is not a case of who did it — but why he did it,” said Daniels.

Daniels admitted to the jury that Smith had lied in his initial statements, but told them that the circumstances surrounding the shooting were not as simple as the prosecution was presenting them.

“Even if he (Smith) lied, he still gets the presumption of innocence,” said Daniels. Daniels stated that the evidence and testimony would show that Steagall had entered the club with his own gun out and Smith had reacted in self-defense and the defense of others.

After opening statements were completed, Hunt called the state’s first expert witness, GBI medical examiner Steve Atkinson. Hunt presented several photos of the crime scene from that night, including graphic photos of Steagall’s body lying on the floor of the club in a pool of blood.

Hunt presented to the jury autopsy photos illustrating the entrance and exit wounds on the body, with Atkinson detailing the path of each .45 caliber bullet through the neck, shoulder, and upper chest areas of Steagall.

After the recess for lunch, Daniels objected again to Judge Simpson’s earlier decision to allow Smith’s initial statement to police into evidence, saying that the investigator’s unintelligible response to Smith’s question about being arrested led to an ineffective miranda warning. Judge Simpson again stood by his initial ruling and Daniels subsequently declared a continuing objection to the material in question.

The second witness called in to testify for the prosecution was Captain of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, Jeff Richards. Richards went through many photos of the crime scene detailing the locations where shell casings, projectiles, and other evidence were found. Richards testified that based on positions of the bullets in the chamber of Steagall’s .22 revolver found near the body, Steagall’s weapon had not been fired.

Captain of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, Jeff Richards testifies Wednesday afternoon

Captain of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, Jeff Richards, testifies Wednesday afternoon for the prosecution

The prosecution called in another expert witness, GBI firearms examiner Kyle Felix. Felix testified that the bullets and casings found at the scene and in Steagall’s body did match the .45 caliber weapon belonging to Herman Lee Smith.

After Felix was excused, the defense pointed out that one of the juror’s was falling asleep. The prosecution team agreed and Judge Simpson stated he would keep an eye on the juror. Simpson added that the same juror had been a few minutes late to court Wednesday morning.

Later, during the playing of some audio evidence, Simpson stopped the proceedings and asked the juror if he was ok after he again appeared to be dozing off. The juror responded that he was listening with his eyes closed. Judge Simpson continued the proceedings and later said he would continue to monitor the juror’s alertness.

The state then called its first eyewitness, Zerick Green, who testified that he and his girlfriend were on a bench nearby when Steagall was shot at the party. Green stated he had arrived at the club that night with his cousin for whom a birthday party was being held that night. He testified he saw Steagall dancing on the dance floor, and when he leaned over to talk to his girlfriend, he heard three shots in a row but added he did not see the shooter.

The final witness of the day was another eyewitness to the shooting. Chad Horton, a Bowdon resident, stated that he was right beside the victim at the time he was shot. Horton stated he was so close that he thought he himself had been shot.

Horton stated several times that he was traumatized by the events of that night, adding that he used his own t-shirt to try and stop Steagall’s bleeding, although it was not enough to save him. “He (Steagall) was still trying to breathe — but it was over,” said Horton.

Horton testified that he saw the shooter that night and then pointed out Smith in the courtroom as the shooter. Horton stated that Steagall was dancing in the front of a mirror and never brandished a weapon of his own. He stated that Smith wore a green adidas jacket that night.

The trial will continue Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. as the prosecution continues with more witnesses.

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