Smith jury to resume work today

September 20, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County jury is to resume deliberations today in the case of a Baltimore man who is defending himself on charges that he killed his girlfriend at a Scaggsville reservoir in April 1993.

The Circuit Court jury of nine women and three men was unable to reach a verdict yesterday in the case of Marvin Philander Smith, who is charged with murder and battery.

The jurors had deliberated about four hours when they sent a note to Judge Raymond Kane Jr. asking if they could be excused until today.

"We would like to be excused for the evening," the jurors said in the note, which was read in court. "Tempers are frayed."

Mr. Smith, who did not testify during the four-day trial, is charged in the beating death of Vanessa Armstead, a 38-year-old Baltimore resident whose body was found floating in the Rocky Gorge Reservoir on April 13, 1993.

Mr. Smith, 37, could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree murder, or up to 30 years in prison if is found guilty of second-degree murder. The battery charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

To find Mr. Smith guilty of first-degree murder, jurors must agree that he deliberately planned the slaying -- an element that does not need to be proved for second-degree murder under state law.

During closing arguments yesterday, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell urged the jury to convict Mr. Smith of first-degree murder, citing the violent circumstances of Ms. Armstead's death.

Ms. O'Donnell noted that Ms. Armstead suffered three blows to her head with a heavy, 6-foot-long tree branch that fractured her skull, broke her jaw and severed an ear.

"You have a woman who was bludgeoned to death," Ms. O'Donnell told the jurors. "There is deliberation and willfulness in what was done to her."

Mr. Smith, in his closing argument, told the jury that he has no recollection of the night of Ms. Armstead's death because he was intoxicated. He asserted, however, that he did not have any involvement in the slaying.

"I am not the one who caused Ms. Armstead's death," he said. "If circumstances appeared or arrived that I could have protected Ms. Armstead, or given my life for hers, I would."

Ms. O'Donnell told the jurors that police found eight fingerprints at the slaying scene that match the defendant's prints -- after Mr. Smith told investigators that he had never been to the reservoir.

The prosecutor noted that Ms. Armstead's relatives testified that she and Mr. Smith often argued, sometimes violently, when drinking alcohol. Relatives said the couple was drinking and arguing while visiting Ms. Armstead's sister before leaving the woman's house shortly before midnight on April 12, 1993.

On April 13, the day Ms. Armstead's body was found, two of her sons testified that Mr. Smith showed little concern about her whereabouts when she failed to return home, Ms. O'Donnell said.

After being questioned by police about Ms. Armstead's death, Mr. Smith fled Maryland and was arrested two months later in North Carolina, Ms. O'Donnell said.

But Mr. Smith told the jury that he fled because he was worried that Ms. Armstead's relatives -- who blamed him for her death -- would harm him in revenge.

Regarding the fingerprints, Mr. Smith noted that police found prints from other people at the death scene but did not take steps to see if they would lead to other suspects.

Mr. Smith added that the prosecution did not present any evidence of the DNA analysis done on Ms. Armstead's body because test results did not support the case against him.

A DNA expert -- the only witness called by Mr. Smith -- testified that Mr. Smith's DNA was not found in tests on tissue samples taken from under the victim's fingernails.

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