Jury still out, deliberation to continue in Smith sentencing
by Rachael Brown
Jul 09, 2013 | 4977 views |  0 comments | 132 132 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nicholas Smith in the Calhoun County Courthouse today during his capital murder trial. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Nicholas Smith in the Calhoun County Courthouse today during his capital murder trial. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Twelve jurors deliberated for a little more than two hours this afternoon, but could not reach a sentence for Nicholas Smith, the man convicted last week of killing third-grade teacher Kevin Thompson in 2011.

During his closing argument, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh asked the jurors to sentence Smith, 24, to death.

“If not in this case, when? If not for Kevin, then for whom?” McVeigh asked.

McVeigh said it’s difficult to say someone should die for their actions and told the jurors they should “put a great deal of thought into this and make the right decision.”

McVeigh then asked the jurors to put themselves into the Wellborn Elementary School teacher’s shoes on the night of April 20, 2011, when he was kidnapped, robbed, duct-taped, driven to Cherokee County and killed with a steak knife.

“How long did he have to sit there thinking ‘What are they going to do to me?’” McVeigh asked.

The district attorney said Thompson was stabbed in the heart and at the same time “this community got stabbed in the heart.”

Prosecutors say two other men, Tyrone Thompson and Jovon Gaston, were also involved in the teacher’s killing.

Tim Burgess, one of Smith’s defense attorneys, asked the jurors to sentence Smith to life in prison without the possibility of parole based on the defendant’s childhood. Jurors previously heard testimony from Smith’s family and officials involving alleged sexual abuse of Smith by a family member and a mother who was partially absent and addicted to alcohol and drugs.

“The decisions you make are based on your upbringing and how you were raised,” Burgess said.

The defense attorney asked jurors to consider how Smith was raised.

“He was raised like a dog, abused and neglected,” Burgess said.

Burgess said nothing could make up for what happened to the 29-year-old teacher, but life in prison would certainly be a punishment.

“Imagine knowing you’re going to die in prison. He’s got a son … imagine never being able to teach your son how to play baseball?” he asked.

McVeigh countered by saying Smith will likely live a long time in prison and his family could visit him.

“Kevin Thompson can never see his family again,” McVeigh said. “When you take the best and brightest among us and kill them, slaughter them, you should get the most severe punishment we have.”

Jurors also heard testimony from a psychologist and sociologist regarding the effect Smith’s childhood had on the choices he made as an adult.

Ronald McCarver, a licensed psychologist and certified forensic examiner, testified that a personality test showed Smith was impulsive, had a tendency to be involved in chaotic relationships and suffered quick mood changes.

“It indicated to me that if he had problems he’d get angry real quickly,” McCarver said.

McCarver said that through testing he found Smith had no diagnosable mental disorders.

When Smith served time in prison for a robbery, McCarver said, it was the most stable environment the defendant had ever lived in.

“He’s very likely to function quite well in a prison environment,” the psychologist said.

McCarver noted that Smith obtained his GED during his previous sentence.

Marti Loring, a clinical sociologist and social worker, testified that she believed the trauma Smith experienced during his childhood had an effect on the rest of his life. Loring said Smith’s exposure to drugs and alcohol at a young age, physical abuse by his mother and sexual abuse by a family member could all be considered traumatic events.

“When people are traumatized they don’t use good sense, good judgment or good morals,” Loring said.

People who have been traumatized and are left untreated have a higher risk of criminal behavior, especially sexually abused boys, Loring testified.

During one of her interviews with Smith, Loring said, the defendant told her he felt threatened by Tyrone Thompson and that was why he killed Kevin Thompson. Loring said Smith told her Tyrone Thompson pointed a gun at him and threatened the lives of Smith’s mother and pregnant girlfriend.

McVeigh asked Loring why Smith never told law enforcement that Tyrone Thompson had threatened him with a gun during the crime. Loring said she was uncertain why Smith had never mentioned the gun before.

Jurors will return to the Calhoun County Courthouse to continue deliberation Wednesday morning at 8:30.

Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.

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