Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch
WAYNE -- U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Smith earned a badge and medal for service during 15 months in Iraq. Court documents allege he returned stateside, met up with a rookie soldier and deserted his post at Fort Drum, N.Y. The duo found their way to the Tri-State, developed a desire to steal guns and faced off against a beloved minister.
They targeted the late Rev. Mark McCalla on June 19, 2008, at a secluded gun range in the Beech Fork Wildlife Management Area, according to the documents. They determined killing McCalla was the safest way to steal his guns. Their confessions indicate they worried that simply robbing the well-armed minister would place their own lives at risk.
Prosecutors will use those confessions and other evidence this week in an effort to convict Smith of murder and first-degree robbery. The co-defendant, Pfc. Stephen Wilson, is scheduled to stand trial in December. Confessions from both men state Wilson pulled the trigger and Smith dragged the body.
Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt will preside over this week's trial. Jury selection and a motions hearing are set for Monday morning, Aug. 24. Court officials say a verdict is possible by week's end.
McCalla died from a single gunshot to the head. His wife, the Rev. Pam McCalla, said this week will be another chapter in 14 months of loss felt by her family and her late husband's congregation at Highlawn Presbyterian Church. She felt more anxious than worried during a conversation last week.
"I just want justice to be served," she said. "I trust in this system, but sometimes this system fails. I just hope the system doesn't fail this time. Particularly for my son."
Matters still pending before the court include defense motions to dismiss the indictment and exclude character references describing McCalla as reverend or pastor. The defense argues Smith had no knowledge of McCalla's occupation and that such references are irrelevant to the case at hand. Defense attorneys also argue the prosecution lost or destroyed computer evidence that might have been relevant to rebutting the minister's character.
The defense filed a motion Thursday asking the court to force attorneys to hand over those computer records. It believes exculpatory evidence from McCalla's computer was turned over to his family before investigators properly processed the hard drive.
Prosecutors have filed a motion asking the court to bar Smith's defense from mentioning reading materials, documents, photographs or computer records obtained from the victim's vehicle or residence.
Meanwhile, Highlawn Presbyterian Church continues to fill its pulpit with substitutes. No permanent replacement has been hired, said church elder Charlie Woolcock.
"We often think about what happened, but we try to let things go the way they should be and deal," he said. "It's a jury trial, and it's going to be up to it what happens."
Two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took Smith's confession a day after his June 27, 2008, arrest in Columbus, Ohio. Authorities had learned the duo's Charleston-to-Colorado Springs, Colo., bus route included a layover in Columbus. One of the agents asked Smith if he was sorry. Smith's response includes him stating he should have made a quick move aboard, so the arresting officer would have killed him.
"Smith stated that he killed a preacher and it was like he killed one of God's messengers," the confession states. "Smith stated, 'I spit in the face of God.' Smith advised that he would find out what happened when he dies."
Smith was born 24 years ago this Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea. He was a U.S. citizen from birth, since his parents were abroad. His life included multiple stints at residences in Newport News, Va., and a U.S. Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, as his father belonged to the U.S. Army. Smith attended some high school in Virginia, but later received his diploma form a foreign school.
Smith, an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division, entered the Army in May 2005 and deployed with his combat team to Iraq from August 2006 to November 2007. He received a combat infantryman badge and the Army's commendation medal during his 15-month tour.
Smith and Wilson were declared absent without leave in May 2008, and the shooting followed a month later.
A mohawk hair style and the duo's New York license plate led authorities to an Idle Acres residence, a subdivision located south of Huntington. They were staying there with a fellow soldier, Robert Riner Jr., who Smith served with in Iraq.
The confessions state both men traveled to Virginia Beach, Va., following the shooting. Smith told authorities they sold two of McCalla's guns to a Hispanic man.
They returned to Idle Acres on June 22, 2008, where Smith told Riner that "they shot the 'preacher guy' and that they were going to be 'on the run,'" according to the confession. Smith told authorities they informed Riner to give him "situational awareness."
Smith told authorities he and Wilson fled on foot when news reports surfaced about their involvement. They ran through the woods and walked to a local restaurant. They used a pay phone, called a taxi cab and took it to Charleston, where they boarded a bus for Colorado Springs, Colo.
Smith's attorney declined comment, and his family was unavailable Friday afternoon.
Wayne Prosecutor Tom Plymale said his case remains strong.