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Monday, November 05, 2007

Amanda Smith arrested in death of son, Devon Epps

The incident report for the the night of August 12, 2007 reveals little about that night and what light it does shed is fractured by the passing of the past two and half months. When the Greenville County deputies responded to the intersection of Jacobs Road, Amanda Raegan Smith gave them a story that seemed so implausible, it didn't even make it to the print version of the deputy's public incident report. The "Incident Type" field is blandly marked with the words "Death Investigation." The rest of the documents list Smith's address, her grandparents' phone number, and a vague suspect description.

By now, most people who care about the case know what Smith told investigators. She said she'd been sitting at the intersection when a man forced her out of the car, jumped in, and smothered her son with a pillow. Smith told investigators they should be looking for a man in his late 30s or early 40s with a red, graying beard and wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He had a knife, she said. Her 2000 black two-door Honda Civic was impounded and handed over to forensics investigators. Smith walked free. The next time a public document came out, it would be her murder warrant. [Read' Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news ]

This morning, a Greenville County Magistrate named James Hudson sat in his small chambers inside the county Law Enforcement Center and signed the warrant. That document is just as vague. The investigating officer offered just enough to get the warrant. Among the few words in the affidavit are these: "Forensic crime scene investigation reveals facts consistent with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with the defendant's version of events."

That much we knew already. An autopsy revealed that seven-year-old Devon Epps had been not smothered, but strangled. No one could ever find who forum-posters began calling BHS, the Bushy Haired Stranger. Beyond that, though, rumor and innuendo ruled the day. Nearly everyone saw what was coming, but no one knew what would happen. [Read: Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death]

This afternoon, as news of Smith's arrest surfaced, 13th Circuit Solicitor Bob Ariail put it all in perspective. "The community wants a quick answer," he said, "but the community wants the right answer."

Greenville County Sheriff's Office investigators took two and half months to bring Smith in on murder charges. During that time, they chased 60 tips and leads. All of them led to dead ends. Or, they led back to Smith.

Sheriff Steve Loftis stood, as usual, stoic in front of the assembled media today. Interviews and forensics he said came in "in bits and pieces." Despite what many people in the community thought, there was no case-breaking piece of physical evidence that led to today's arrest. The totality of those bits and pieces led to Smith's arrest.

"It has been determined that Devon Epps death did not occur in the manner in which it was reported by his mother," Loftis said. "Amanda Smith is responsible for the death of her son."

Just like that, all the speculation and rumor turned into an official statement. With the county's chief prosecutor standing behind him, Greenville County's top lawman called Amanda Raegan Smith a murderer.

Inside the magistrate's chambers, Smith looked pudgy, pasty, and emotionless. Her face was broken out and plastered with with makeup. Her hair was tussled. She wore a black graphic t-shirt that was mostly covered by a zip-up black fleece jacket. Her jewelry consisted primarily of a silver set of handcuffs, tight around her wrists, and a stark contrast to her long, manicured fingernails.

***

After so many weeks of waiting, there is now a renewed public urgency for the next step. It will not be fast. If people had a hard time waiting two months for the arrest, waiting for ultimate justice will be a lot more tough. If history is any indication, Smith will remain in the Greenville County Detention Center on no bond until such time as her attorney can get her a bond hearing. That process usually takes a week to a month. In many cases these days, the defendant is not physically present for the hearing. It happens via video conferencing. As to whether she will get bond, it's impossible to say. Most hard core murderers are held without bond until trial. However, every judge is required to consider a reasonable bond. It will be up to the judge to decide how much of a flight risk and danger to the community Smith might be. If bond is forthcoming, it will be very, very high.

After that, many more weeks, if not months, will pass before a preliminary hearing. That will be the public's first opportunity to hear the prosecution's case. Usually, Ariail puts the lead investigator on the stand and walks him or her through the case. Then we will learn at least some of the evidence Ariail plans to use to put Smith away.

Then, the long wait happens. Most big murder cases in this county take at least a year before they go to trial. The timeline will largely be affected by whether Ariail decides to seek the death penalty in the case. One of the many aggravating factors in South Carolina that allow for a death penalty prosecution is the murder of a child under the age of eleven. Ariail has sought the death penalty in most of the high-profile murders in his circuit. He has been successful in almost all of those prosecutions. At the same time, Ariail is a prosecutor that absolutely despises losing and is very reluctant to take a case before a jury if he thinks there is a chance he won't win.

A big part of his decision will be based on things we don't know right now. Consider this: the highest profile murder in Upstate South Carolina in the pasts several decades was committed by a woman named Susan Smith. She admitted to drowning her two sons and then telling investigators she'd been carjacked. The prosecutor's case was ironclad and he tried the case in a part of the country that is very pro-capital punishment The jury gave Susan Smith life in prison with an opportunity for parole after 30 years.

Ariail was predictably reticent today. In all the years I've known him, he has never given away his intentions regarding what kind of penalty he expects to achieve. At this point, I'd have a better chance at flipping a coin for an answer than guessing what he will do.

I can feel confident of this, though. Ariail is sure he's got the goods on Amanda Smith or we wouldn't have heard from him today.

***

Right now, Smith is likely in a jumpsuit and sitting in the women's wing of the GCDC. Many people believe she has spent the last two months working at Zaxby's during the day and partying with friends at night. She will be among the most famous women in jail tonight. A dubious honor, to be sure, but one that may fit her very well.

At Jacobs Road and Frontage, there hung a picture of the old suspect on a tree near the crime scene. One of my more regular e-mail friends I've developed as sources since this case broke sent this message this evening: "I drove to the place where it happened and tore down the poster of the BHS (Bushy Haired Stranger). Wish I had one of Amanda Raegan Smith to replace it with." [Read: Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?]

On the outside, Devon Epps father is saying out loud what many people have been thinking. Devon Epps is gone forever, but there is still time for justice.

"It's not going to bring him back," Chad Epps told WYFF, "but at least she has to suffer for it now."

Previous Coverage:

Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death

Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news

Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

Devon Epps: Waiting

Devon Epps: Pictures

The Missing Memorial Page

On Being Devon Epps' Mom

*Photo courtesy GreenvilleOnline

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1 Comments:

Blogger jusdealem said...

Great news! I'm so glad she has finally been arrested. My Aunt, who lives near Greenville, emailed me this morning with the news. She was very pleased also.

12:45 PM  

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