Smith guilty in killing of girlfriend

September 21, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore man was convicted of second-degree murder in Howard Circuit Court yesterday in the April 1993 fatal beating of his girlfriend at a Scaggsville reservoir.

A jury of nine women and three men deliberated 9 1/2 hours Monday and yesterday in the case of Marvin Philander Smith, who dismissed his public defender in July and handled his own defense during a four-day trial.

Smith, 37, could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder. He faces an additional 20-year prison term for his conviction on a battery count.

Judge Raymond Kane Jr. will sentence Smith on Nov. 10.

Smith was charged in the slaying of Vanessa Armstead, a 38-year-old Baltimore resident whose body was found floating in Rocky Gorge Reservoir on April 13, 1993.

The prosecution sought a conviction for first-degree murder, a charge that would have required the jury to determine that Smith deliberately planned the slaying of Ms. Armstead. The second-degree murder charge does not include the element of premeditation.

If Smith had been found guilty of first-degree murder, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell urged the jury to convict Smith of first-degree murder during her closing statement Monday, citing the violent circumstances of Ms. Armstead's death.

Testimony revealed that Ms. Armstead suffered three blows to her head with a 6-foot-long tree branch that fractured her skull, broke her jaw and severed an ear.

Ms. O'Donnell noted that Ms. Armstead's relatives testified that the woman and Smith often argued, sometimes violently, when drinking alcohol.

The relatives said Ms. Armstead and Smith were drinking and arguing the night before her death.

The prosecutor also asserted that Smith's actions after the slaying, such as fleeing Maryland when he was questioned by police, showed his guilt. He was arrested in North Carolina about two months after the slaying.

But Smith, who did not testify during the trial, told the jury during his closing statement that he had nothing to do with Ms. Armstead's death.

He added that he had no recollection of the night before her death because he was intoxicated.

During his closing statement, Smith also outlined his problems with lawyers in the case.

His first attorney, a public defender, withdrew because he was transferred to another county. The next public defender withdrew because he also was representing a prosecution witness in an unrelated case. The third public defender was dismissed by Smith, who said the lawyer showed little interest in representing him.

Wearing a Georgetown University sweat shirt and gray pants issued by the county Detention Center, Smith apologized for his lack of knowledge on courtroom procedures during the trial. He has a high-school equivalency diploma.

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