Mistrial declared for Smith

Friday, September 19, 2014

By Karen Hall and Ivory Riner

Staff Writers

After just half a day of court proceedings, a mistrial was declared for Stephen D. Smith, 53, who is facing multiple charges of rape and sexual exploitation of a minor.

Fourteen jurors were selected Monday, but on Wednesday morning there were only 13 in the jury box. One juror was forced to drop out due to a death in the family, but Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell and the attorneys decided to proceed anyway. If more than one juror had to leave due to ill health or family emergency, there would not be enough to decide the case.

"We're cutting it close now," exclaimed Russell.

In fact, what happened was that during the lunch break, Smith, and the corrections officer escorting him, came face to face at the men's room with a juror who had not left the courthouse. No words were exchanged between defendant and juror, but the officer told the judge and attorneys what had happened.

Without the jury present, attorneys questioned the officer, and discussed what to do, and eventually the decision was made to declare a mistrial.

A principal of the American justice system is "Innocent until proven guilty," and to support this great care is taken to present criminal defendants at their trial looking like ordinary people. They wear regular clothes, are not shackled or handcuffed, and corrections officers wait at the back of the courtroom, not beside the defendant.

A quick search of Marshall County jail inmates on jailtracker.com reveals who is in jail and who is not, but this is not the same as seeing with your own eyes a defendant being escorted by a corrections officer.

Russell even asked jurors who suspected Smith was incarcerated, and most raised their hands.

Smith will be back in court on Oct. 10, Russell's next regular day here, when a new trial date may be selected.

Smith's trial started with the judge explaining the charges, and Assistant District Attorney Holly Eubanks reading the indictment.

In her opening argument, Eubanks told jurors the victim would identify herself in the pictures of sexual activity allegedly taken by Smith.

"You are going to see pictures," she said, warning jurors that, though it might be distasteful, they had to look at the pictures, since the pictures are essential to proving the case.

"It's not going to be as clear as the state proposes," said Smith's attorney Hershel Koger when it was his turn to make an opening statement. "There's no evidence these pictures came from any computer in the defendant's house. There is no credible proof that ties these images to the defendant."

After a break, the first witness took the stand. She was Smith's victim, now an 18-year-old college freshman. Eubanks' initial questions set the scene, describing the victim's and her family's relationship with Smith, how long they had known him, how often they visited his house in Cornersville, and so on. Then it was time to break for lunch.