Smithson is convicted of the 2006 strangulation death of coworker Jason Shephard inside Smithson’s home.
Authorities also claim that Smithson administered the date-rape drug gamma hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, to the young man and then tried to rape him.
Smithson is serving a life sentence, but maintains his innocence and seeks a proper investigation of F. Bruce Covington, who was also in Smithson’s home when Shephard died.
Covington was convicted of drug-related charges stemming from the incident, but prosecutors say Smithson is the killer.
Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor must determine if a new trial for Smithson is warranted.
The only witness at the Sept. 10 hearing was G. Guy Smith, who Smithson alleges served ineffectively as his trial attorney.
Smithson alleges Smith failed to ensure Smithson’s right to confront a serologist and DNA specialist who participated in the case; failed to properly investigate Covington; failed to cross-examine a damaging witness about the witness’ substance-abuse issues; and improperly had a state trooper read a statement by Covington to jurors.
“Guy Smith failed me,” Smithson told PGN. “This hearing is my chance to present my case, and build a record for the higher courts to review.”
For his part, Smith said he did his best to represent Smithson, but was hampered by a series of judicial rulings, including a gag order that limited his ability to gather information about Covington.
Outside the courtroom, Smith voiced his personal opinion that Covington allegedly killed Shephard.
The attorney expressed concern that Covington heavily drugged Smithson and Shephard, then strangled Shephard, possibly after trying to have sex with him.
He said Smithson should have contacted police as soon as he became lucid, but instead he panicked and tried to cover up the situation.
“When Jason’s body was found [by authorities], Bill was seen as the culprit,” Smith said. “Once that train left the station, I couldn’t get it back. I couldn’t get the focus on Covington, where it belonged.”
Covington didn’t attend the hearing and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Smith also expressed support for a new trial for Smithson.
“I’m not a perfect person by any means,” he said. “If a court can find grounds for a new trial, then of course Bill should get one.”
Smith said an atmosphere of homophobia pervaded Smithson’s 2008 murder trial.
“Witnesses were asked if they were gay, as if that were relevant,” he noted. “That shows you where the prosecution’s head was at.”
Even if Dozor rules against Smithson, the defendant may be able to get a favorable ruling in federal court, Smith added.
“His chances are better there,” Smith continued. “At the federal level, the constitutional safeguards are going to get a lot more scrutiny. I think there are a number of things they can look at to see if Bill got a fair trial.”
Rob Nardello, a staunch advocate for Smithson, stopped short of accusing Covington of killing Shephard, but he didn’t rule out that possibility.
“Three people were in Bill’s house when Jason was killed,” Nardello said. “Why was Bill the only person put on trial?”
Dozor is expected to review additional court filings before issuing a ruling within the next several months.
Smithson, 48, remains incarcerated at a state prison in Huntingdon.