Prosecutors: No new trial in murder case
by Timothy Cwiek
Dec 12, 2013 | 1367 views | 5 5 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a 49-page legal brief, Delaware County prosecutors last month urged a judge to deny William Smithson’s request for a new murder trial.

Smithson is convicted of the 2006 strangulation death of coworker Jason Shephard inside Smithson’s home.

Advocates for Smithson say there’s no direct evidence linking him to Shephard’s murder.

They claim Smithson’s second-degree murder conviction was due largely to homophobia and that police failed to investigate F. Bruce Covington, who was inside Smithson’s home when Shephard died.

But authorities say Smithson administered the date-rape drug gamma hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, to Shephard and tried to rape him prior to strangling him.

Covington was convicted of drug-related charges stemming from the incident, but prosecutors say he wasn’t Shephard’s killer.

Covington couldn’t be reached for comment.

Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor must decide if a new trial for Smithson is warranted.

Smithson contends his trial attorney, G. Guy Smith, served him ineffectively.

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 witness Dan Hall about his substance-abuse issues; and improperly had a state trooper read statements by Covington to jurors.

But in a Nov. 22 court filing, prosecutor William Toal 3d said Smith served Smithson adequately.

“[Smithson] has failed to demonstrate that trial counsel lacked sound strategic reasons for the alleged errors or omissions which [Smithson] claimed were instances of ineffective assistance,” the filing states.

In addition, it also states that Smith made a reasonable decision to not call the serologist and DNA specialist as witnesses.

If Smith had called those witnesses, it would have brought more attention to evidence damaging to Smithson, according to the filing.

Hall, a former lover of Smithson, recently died. Hall allegedly told police that Smithson admitted getting into a struggle with Shephard prior to his death.

Hall also allegedly said that Smithson fantasized about drugging straight men and having his way with them sexually.

But police lost their tape recording of Hall’s interview, and Smithson denies making the statements that Hall allegedly attributed to him.

Smithson says Smith should have questioned Hall about his substance-abuse issues, to cast doubt on Hall’s credibility.

But Toal’s filing states that Smith made a reasonable decision to not challenge Hall’s credibility.

“Mr. Smith was concerned, based upon his own knowledge from conversations with Mr. Hall and from conversations with [Smithson], that an attempt to cross-examine Mr. Hall to discredit him would backfire, that Mr. Hall would appear to be more credible and would likely say something even more damaging to [Smithson] in the process,” the filing states.

Covington declined to testify at Smithson’s trial, citing his fifth-amendment right to not incriminate himself.

But he gave statements to police, and Toal’s filing states that Smith made a reasonable decision to allow a state trooper to read those statements to jurors.

“Discovering a significant amount of evidence about Bruce Covington but not being able to put it before the jury was a very real problem, and yet Mr. Smith was largely able to overcome that problem [through the trooper’s participation],” Toal’s filing states.

For his part, Smithson says he was heavily drugged by Covington, and passed out while Shephard was still alive. He claims that when he woke up the next morning, still groggy from the drugs, he discovered Shephard’s corpse in his home, panicked and tried to cover up the situation.

Smithson, 48, remains incarcerated at the state prison in Huntingdon.

Rob Nardello, an advocate for Smithson, expressed hope for a new trial.

“Why don’t prosecutors want to re-examine what really happened that night?” Nardello posed. “Why do they keep looking at Dan Hall’s statements, when he wasn’t even there that night? Then they cover for Covington, who gave two conflicting statements that included lies to investigators.”

A decision by Dozor is expected within the next few months.

Comments
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rnardello
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January 01, 2014
Quite frankly… fechols, I am not sure if you are saying that I "never said anything about Dan Hall's testimony" or if you are shouting at Tim? It’s hard to tell in these rants of yours. But it really doesn't matter because the facts are the facts…

The point that you seem to be missing is that the prosecutor used Dan's words as a "witness", to crucify Bill, when Dan was not there at the time of the murder. There is an affidavit Dan gave that explains he was under the affects of a crystal meth binge himself when he gave this statement; a statement that was recorded by the police before they transcribed it and conveniently lost that recording. In addition, they allowed Covington to distance himself from the crime, even though they have proof Covington lied to the investigators to cover his tracks about being there at the time of the murder. You are not seeing that Covington should have been a prime suspect and been further investigated, rather than being protected. At the very least he would have stood trial with Bill rather than being hidden from the jury. Covington gave two (2) conflicting statements and the Jury was told they could not consider those statements because "Bruce Covington was not on trial". That my friend, is a disgrace.

I'm not sure why that is so difficult for you to understand or why it enrages you so… If I could change those facts I would. Then maybe I could have some faith in the credibility of our legal system again.

You say I (and/or Tim) stand for a man who lied to the police… aren't you doing the same by standing up for Covington, a man who lied to the police about being at the scene of the crime and covered his tracks. I am not sure what your association is with Bruce Covington or why you are trying to minimize his role in this - like the authorities allowed him to do.

Regardless - there is so much more that you either don't know or you just don't understand… I don't blame you for that. I know that there are still people like you who base all their opinions on what they read the Delaware County Times.

I am really not trying to be argumentative. I am just trying to prevent the fictional Journalism that has been auspiciously removed from The Delaware County Times website, from being repeated as fact.

I do wish you all the good health and peace of mind that you deserve in this promising New Year. Cheers:-))

fechols
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January 03, 2014
Thank you Rob. I'm not sure where in my response to Tim's non sense you got that I said anything about Covington? But you always do see things that are not there. When you can explain Bills actions-Bills lies and Bills cover up -not Covington-BILL-maybe then you will see the truth instead of covering it up yourself. The only victim here was Jason. And now because of Bill he is dead. And you and Tim have buried his memory in this circus you have created to try to protect a murderer. And that my friend is what is truly inexcusable.
rnardello
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January 03, 2014
I never said Bill should not have been investigated… 2 people should have been investigated. But in your statement above you insist -NOT COVINGTON-? I have to wonder why?
fechols
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December 21, 2013
Rob Nardello and Timothy Cwiek are the example of what is wrong with this world. To stand for a man who lied to the police, friends and the family of his victim, not to mention killed and then covered up the death of a young boy. To now blame another dead person for his actions. I wonder why you never said anything about Dan Hall's testimony being wrong when he was alive? hmmmm? Stop grasping and join the real world. disgusting.