Prosecution rests in Smelley murder trial
by David Lazenby
Sep 21, 2011 | 3014 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prosecutors in an ongoing Walker County murder trial on Tuesday finished presenting its case against Brian Michael Smelley, who is accused of murder, first-degree robbery and abuse of a corpse.

After the state rested following testimony from John Softley, the investigator for the Walker County District Attorney's office who questioned Smelley about his involvement in the 2010 death and dismemberment of Richard Harris, attorneys for the accused Cordova man began the defensive phase of the trial.

Before handing over possession to the defense, disturbing details about Harris' death were revealed when the doctor who performed his autopsy testified at the beginning of the seventh day of the trial.

Prosecutors showed the jury grisly photographs taken during Harris' autopsy to document forensic scientists' findings. Some jurors grimaced at the sights put on display by the State. Other jury members covered their mouths and noses while viewing the pictures and other evidence, including clothing allegedly worn by Harris when he was shot dead in February 2010.

"The body was received in separate bags because some of the extremities were amputated," said Emily Ward, the forensic pathologist who examined Harris' remains. She also revealed on Tuesday that both of Harris' legs had been cut twice.

She added that the incisions appeared to have been made with "a sharp cutting instrument, like a saw."

Ward said it was evident from her examination that Harris had died from the bullet wound inflicted slightly above and behind his left ear before his body was cut.

Authorities believe it was Smelley's co-defendant in the case, David Hollie, who fired the fatal bullet. Hollie will be tried in a separate murder case that will be held at a later date.

The jury on Tuesday also heard from Trent McCluskey, the jail administrator for the Walker County Sheriff's Department, who testified that Smelley could not fit into the size-3X jumpsuits the facility provides for its largest inmates.

McCluskey also estimated that Smelley weighed 300-400 pounds at the time of his arrest and confirmed that Smelley was hospitalized because of heart problems for about two weeks after he was arrested in March 2010.

When asked about his appearance today, several witnesses put on the stand during the trial have said it appears Smelley has lost weight since the last time they saw him.

After Softley testified about the interview of Smelley he conducted along with investigator Frank Cole, a recording of which was played in court for the fourth time Tuesday, Softley admitted he questioned the "validity" of the interview "to a certain extent" during a cross examination by Smelley's attorney Mark Turner.

When District Attorney Bill Adair asked him to clarify this, Softley said he meant that he was unsure if Smelley was telling the whole truth about his involvement in the homicide. Smelley admitted to Softley and Cole that he helped Hollie cover up the crime by moving Harris' vehicle away from the murder scene and assisting him in scattering Harris' body parts at several spots throughout Walker County.

Immediately after the state rested its case, Smelley's other attorney, Thomas Carmichael, filed a motion for a mistrial on all three counts, a request denied by Walker County Circuit Judge Doug Farris.

Several witnesses called by the defense were people who personally know Smelley. They were questioned about the 40-year-old's reputation for honesty.

Adair asked the witnesses if their opinion included the knowledge that Smelley spent a year in jail after he was found guilty of writing more than $13,000 in bad checks, and whether that information would alter their opinion about his honesty.

A witness who does not know Smelley, Russell Howton, the director of student services for Bevill State Community College, was called by the defense to testify about Smelley's academic records while attending the college beginning when it was still known as Walker College.

Howton revealed that Smelley failed the majority of classes he took at the college and accumulated a grade point average of 1.43, which he described as being the equivalent of a grade of D or F.

During cross examination, the jury was reminded that Smelley has to either graduate from high school or earn a General Educational Development diploma before he could take classes at the college.

The trial being held at the Walker County Courthouse annex will continue today at 8:30 a.m.