Trial date set for 1 suspect in Thompson death
by Rachael Griffin
Jan 23, 2013 | 6409 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A judge on Tuesday set a tentative date for the capital murder trial of one of three defendants charged in the 2011 death of an elementary school teacher.

Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell set May 20 for the trial of Nicholas Smith — accused of kidnapping and killing Wellborn Elementary teacher Kevin Thompson.

Smith, 22, who was present during Tuesday’s hearing, is being held in the Calhoun County Jail.

Smith and two other men, Tyrone Thompson, a childhood friend of Kevin Thompson, and Jovon Gaston, are alleged to have kidnapped Kevin Thompson from his Jacksonville apartment in April 2011.

Authorities have said the three men forced Kevin Thompson to withdraw money from several banks and ATMs in Jacksonville. Later the suspects allegedly killed the third-grade teacher and left his body alongside U.S. 278 in Cherokee County. Police discovered the body nearly two days after Thompson was reported missing.

Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said in Howell’s courtroom that setting a trial date was first on his agenda.

“Our main concern is the trial date so we can begin scheduling witnesses and let the family know,” McVeigh said addressing Howell.

Shaun Quinlan, Smith’s court-appointed attorney, told the court he was still working to obtain Smith’s school and mental health records. Quinlan said Smith had most of his schooling in Calhoun County. However, Smith also attended schools in Hawaii and California, and those records might be harder to acquire, he said. Quinlan asked Howell to consider having the court pay for him to travel to both states to obtain the records.

Howell said he would look at “what needs to be done in the most economical way.”

Quinlan also said he would be filing a motion to have his client’s IQ and mental competence evaluated. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 2002 case ruled that defendants with an IQ less than 70 may not be executed, as it would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Howell said Quinlan needs to review Smith’s school records before ordering either evaluation. “There needs to be a good-faith basis to have those tests,” Howell said.

Quinlan noted Smith did not graduate high school. Howell said by phone Tuesday afternoon that he hopes to have the school records by the end of the month.

Howell said trials for the other men charged would start when the judges handling those cases were ready.

Howell said even though the charges all stem from one death, the cases will be tried separately.

“(Capital murder cases) are tough to try jointly,” Howell said.

The judge said such cases are usually tried separately to avoid defendants accusing one another during the trial and to discourage the jury from convicting the suspects based on those accusations.

State records show Circuit Judge Bud Turner will preside over the trial for Gaston. Circuit Judge Debra Jones will oversee the case against Tyrone Thompson. Attempts to reach Turner and Jones on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Howell scheduled another status hearing for March 18 to make sure all questions and issues have been addressed before the trial begins.

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.
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