November 26, 2020

Prosecution, Defense Rest in Smith Murder Trial

(Carrollton, GA) — The prosecution rested its case just before the jury was released for a lunch break Friday afternoon in the murder trial of Herman Lee Smith, III at the Carroll County Court House and the defense was not far behind, resting its case later on in the afternoon.

Closing statements are expected to begin Monday morning in the case where Smith faces numerous charges, including malice and felony murder, in the death of 21-year-old Cardarius Steagall of Franklin. Steagall died from gunshot wounds suffered during a birthday party at “Club 100” in Carroll County last November.

The prosecution led by Senior Assistant District Attorney Jeff Hunt rested its case after calling seven witnesses including three eyewitnesses, two expert witnesses from the GBI Crime Lab, and two Carroll County Sheriff’s Department investigators.

Hunt presented the jury with Smith’s nearly three hour statement from the day after the shooting where he emphatically denied being involved in the death of Steagall. Smith confessed a few weeks to the shooting, claiming self-defense.

Hunt introduced new evidence Friday morning in the form of a five-minute phone conversation between Smith and some friends while he was in jail. Public defender Harry Daniels fiercely objected to the playing of the conversation but was overruled by the presiding judge in the case Judge John Simpson. In the phone conversation Smith’s unidentified friend said, “I heard you got you a bad bitch.” Smith responded “Yeah, I got me a bad bitch.”

During testimony by CCSO investigator Brian Finley, it was determined that Smith’s .45 caliber weapon was not found where Smith said it would be (near his mom’s house) during his 43-minute confession interview where he claimed self-defense. Rather, it was located several miles away near Bowdon Tyus Rd. Daniels did add that his defense team eventually led CCSO investigators to the actual gun location later the same day.

The defense called 11 eyewitnesses Friday afternoon, but none testified they saw Steagall raising his gun towards Smith at the time of the shooting. Many of the witnesses did testify to seeing Steagall with a gun that night, however.

Public Defender Harry Daniels presented the defense's case Friday afternoon calling 11 witnesses.

Public Defender Harry Daniels presented the defense’s case Friday afternoon, calling 11 witnesses.

Dwight Thomas, Jr. referred to by his nickname “Junior” testified that he felt a lot of tension with several guys from Heard County that night after some issues between the groups from Bowdon and Heard at the club a few weeks earlier.

Thomas stated that several guys from Heard were “mean-mugging” him after he had danced one time with the mother of Steagall’s baby, Jessica Holloway. Holloway testified that she had never danced with Thomas.

Several other defense witnesses also testified there were problems among the two groups of young men from Heard and Bowdon. Hunt did not cross examine most of the defense’s witnesses.

The final witness called by the defense, Crystal Laye of Franklin, dramatically changed her statement from the night of the shooting saying that she saw Steagall enter the club just seconds before the shooting. All of the other witnesses testified that Steagall had been dancing for several minutes right before the shots were fired. Hunt asked Laye, “So you’re telling me that you have a better memory of that night eight months later, than you did just after it happened?” Laye replied, “Yes.”

Stay tuned to The Heard Citizen facebook page Monday for live updates on the jury’s decision which may come as early as Monday afternoon.


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