Author: Tim Woerner, Staff Writer, Times-Tribune (Corbin, KY)
Jurors in Knox Circuit Court took less than one hour to exonerate Ginger Smith – accused of murdering her husband Joe – after closing arguments concluded late Tuesday in the second and final day of her trial.
The not guilty verdict capped a case that was initially considered a suicide after Joe Smith’s death on Oct. 28, 2005 but was followed by the indictment of Ginger Smith in July 2006. “She’s probably a little smarter than everyone thought she was”, said Shorty Smith, Joe’s father. “I think the commonwealth did a good job. I think they did what they could. There’s no one to blame, she’s just a mean person and she got away with it.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele reminded jurors in his closing remarks that Ginger Smith’s three statements to police differed substantially, asking why she would change her story if it was true. “Why do people lie?” Steele asked. “To get out of trouble … It just so (happened) that this time she (knew) where every shot was fired in the house”, Steele continued, referencing her third statement to police. “Who in the world hands a drunk person who’s threatening to kill her a pistol to put up?”
Defense attorney Randy Jewell called the prosecution’s case circumstantial. “There is no doubt Joe Smith died and there is no doubt Joe Smith died of a gunshot wound”, Jewell said in his closing statement. “After that, there is plenty of doubt. She gave inconsistent statements. Are you going to convict her on that and that alone?”
Tuesday’s witnesses featured testimony from Ginger Smith’s mother that Kentucky State Police Arson Investigator Dee Hughes advised her to get Ginger to change her story. Hughes denied the accusation when called as a rebuttal witness.
The defense also presented evidence from independent investigation by retired KSP ballistics expert Ronnie Freels and pathologist Dr. George R. Nichols II. “The scene dictates that if you’re anywhere close to that you’re gonna get biological material on you”, Freels said. The .357 Magnum revolver that killed Joe Smith was a high-velocity weapon that would produce a lot of “blowback” in a contact would (a would produced with the muzzle of the gun touching the skin), he said. “There is no documentation of gunshot residue or biological matter on Ginger”, Freels said.
Joe Smith, KSP forensic science specialist Amy Dorsey confirmed, had a significant amount of led styphnate, barium nitrate and antimony sulfide on the back of his left hand by contrast. Those three materials would indicate the likelihood of gunshot residue. Nichols testimony further argued that such evidence could absolve Ginger Smith. “If she had not cleaned her hands in the interim then that eliminates her (as a potential shooter),” Nichols
said. “Within medical probability the wound was self-inflicted. In my opinion the manner of death in this case was suicide.”
Steele responded by suggesting it made more sense the gunshot residue got onto Joe Smith as he raised his hand to defend himself from the fatal shot. Steele pointed out the manner in which the body was found and the placement of a beer can next to it. Those factors combined, he said, would have made it nearly impossible for an intoxicated Joe Smith to have shot himself, held on to the gun despite its recoil and grasped the beer can in the opposite hand.
Monday’s proceedings had included the testimony of Joe Smith’s father and stepmother, responding officers and emergency personnel and experts fro the state medical examiner’s office. Gunshot residue testing was first referenced during their testimony, with Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Harold Mays stating Ginger Smith had used the restroom before the test was administered and Kentucky State Police Trooper Dallas Eubanks adding that the cotton swabs involved didn’t even pick up any dirt or nicotine on her hands.
The commonwealth’s final witness, however KSP Detective Clyde Wells, told jurors at the start of Tuesday’s proceeding he’d misinterpreted the results of testing when he was first read the conclusions over the
phone. The timing of when he received the official report was also at issue. Wells told the grand jury he’d received it in January, but said at the trial that was a procedural explanation that only meant it had arrived in Harlan. It was not physically in his hands until February.
Wells provided false information to Ginger Smith during interrogation, Jewell suggested in his cross examination. “Why would Detective Wells get up and tell you he didn’t have the test and then tell you he didn’t lie to Ginger”, Jewell asked in his closing statement. “Surely you can not find anybody guilty on the evidence you’ve heard at trial.”