ILNews

Court upholds murder conviction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a Brown County man's murder conviction, finding there was sufficient evidence to show he killed his wife in 2003.

The man, Michael B. Smith, appealed his conviction, arguing evidence was admitted in violation of Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b) and that it was insufficient to support his conviction. Smith was found guilty of killing his wife Linda, whom he claimed he found alone in their hot tub after he fell asleep earlier in the evening.

In Michael B. Smith v. State of Indiana, No. 07A05-0701-CR-50, the appellate court unanimously found the admittance of testimony from first responders, police, doctors, relatives of Smith's wife, and co-workers - Smith only objected to one person's testimony at trial - was not a fundamental error by the trial court. The witnesses testified about how Linda's body wasn't wet even though Smith claimed he pulled her from the hot tub and his clothes and the area around the hot tub were not wet when first responders arrived.

Some testified how Linda was different when Smith was around, and how their business was in financial trouble. Their testimony also indicated Linda suffered verbal and sometimes physical abuse at the hands of her husband.

A part of the state's theory for Smith's motive to kill Linda was a financial one. Their business was in trouble and he had taken out life insurance polices only on Linda. He also cashed in her pension to support the business.

There was no error by the court to allow admission of Smith's behavior and treatment of his wife, including preventing her from giving out her phone number, requiring her to check in with him, and making derogatory comments toward her, Judge Melissa May wrote.

The trial court conducted a hearing on the state's notice of intent to use 404(b) evidence and ordered that a large portion of it be based on recent observations. The court also gave limiting instructions, and as a result, didn't abuse its discretion, she wrote.

The state also provided ample evidence as to his motive to kill Linda. Smith's story of how he found Linda, how she may have died, and what he was doing before he discovered her body alone in the hot tub was inconsistent, the judge wrote.

"There was sufficient evidence for a rational jury to find Michael guilty of murder," Judge May wrote.
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