Trial begins in murder of Jasper man
by James Phillips
Sep 14, 2011 | 6215 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Testimony began Tuesday afternoon inside the Walker County Courthouse in the murder trial of a Cordova man accused of helping murder a Jasper man in 2010.

Brian Michael Smelley, 40, has been charged with murder, robbery and abuse of a corpse in connection with the Feb. 11, 2010, death of 63-year-old Jasper resident Richard Douglas Harris.

James David Hollie, 33, of Jasper is facing identical charges in the death but will face trial at a later date.

The trial is being heard by Walker County Circuit Judge Doug Farris.

Harris was reported missing to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office by his family on Feb. 12, 2010. He was last seen at a flea market on Highway 69 North in Boldo on Feb. 11. His vehicle was found on Feb. 14 on the shoulder of future Interstate 22 about 100 yards from the Whitehouse Road overpass.

On March 5, 2010, the torso of a body, which was later identified as Harris, was found off Old Baltimore Road near Cordova. Two days later, Smelley and Hollie were arrested for the crime and body parts and evidence were found at several locations across Walker County.

Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair said during his more than one-hour opening statement that evidence in the trial will show Harris was murdered by being shot in the back of the head and the defendants later dismembered the body to make it more difficult for police to find.

“This case is as brutal and cold-blooded as I’ve seen in my 25 years of prosecuting cases in Walker County,” Adair said.

Adair said evidence will also show that Smelley did not shoot Harris, but he is being charged with murder because he willfully aided and abetted Hollie throughout the incident and the attempted cover up.

Jury members were shown a transcript from an interview between investigators and Smelley via projector during Adair’s opening statements. Adair said Smelley admitted in the interview to helping Hollie and after the body was discarded was paid somewhere between $100 to $120 for that assistance — money that Smelley said in the interview could have come from Harris’ wallet.

Adair said Smelley knew something bad was going to happen to Harris on Feb. 11 and that was also evident in the interview transcript.

Defense attorney Mark Turner painted a much different picture of Smelley, saying he was afraid for his own life after witnessing the crime committed by Hollie.

“Brian had the fear that David would kill him, too,” he said.

Turner said the defense will prove through the trial that Smelley had no motive or intent to murder Harris.

“Did Brian have any intent to kill Richard Harris? That is a really important element,” Turner told jurors. “I think, when you weigh the evidence, that he did not.”

The more than 20-minute interview between Smelley and DA investigators Frank Cole and John Softley was played in its entirety during the defense’s opening statements. Once the audio interview was finished, Turner asked jurors to find Smelley not guilty and ended his opening statements.

After opening statements, Farris dismissed the jury until 8:30 a.m. today when testimony is expected to begin.