Curtis Johnson/The Herald-Dispatch
Daniel Smith, a deserted specialist from the U.S. Army, waits for jury selection to begin Monday, August 24, 2009, in Wayne Circuit Court. A two-count indictment charges Smith with killing and robbing Huntington minister Mark McCalla at a secluded gun range in the Beech Fork Wildlife Management Area.
WAYNE – Both sides are finished presenting evidence in the murder and robbery trial of U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Smith.
Smith and Pfc. Stephen Wilson, both absent without leave from Fort Drum, N.Y., are charged with robbery and murder linked to the June 19, 2008, shooting death of the Rev. Mark McCalla.
Smith told Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt that he did not wish to testify on his own behalf.
Public defender Larry Lewis called no witnesses, but had a portion of Wilson’s confession to police read into evidence.
Closing arguments and the jury’s verdict are expected Friday. Proceedings will resume with jury instructions at 9 a.m.
Wayne County Sheriff’s Capt. Travis Williamson was the last of 18 witnesses called by Prosecutor Tom Plymale. His testimony followed that of Frank Heathcote, the taxi cab driver who transported Smith and co-defendant Pfc. Stephen Wilson to Charleston during their effort to elude capture.
Williamson testified about the investigation and reviewed its evidence, while Heathcote spoke of the suspects’ behavior during the taxi cab ride.
Public defender Larry Lewis asked the court to strike the prosecution’s evidence and judge his client innocent of the indictment. Prosecutor Larry Plymale said the evidence was overwhelming as he argued against Lewis’ request.
Late Thursday morning, an audio recording forced a witness to forsake the brotherhood of war.
Robert Riner, who served 15 months with Smith in Iraq, told Smith’s jury his friend confided in him after McCalla’s death. Smith had told Riner he was present when Wilson fatally shot the Huntington minister. Smith had described robbery as their motivation.
Riner’s testimony followed that of his mother, Mary Finley. She allowed Smith and Wilson to seek refuge at her house when the duo deserted the military.
Riner and Finley both praised Smith during the hearing calling him a good person. Both credited Smith with saving Riner’s life from thoughts of suicide.
Prosecutor Tom Plymale is expected to rest his case this afternoon.
Wilson informed the court earlier Thursday that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to protect himself from self incrimination, if called to testify in the trial.
Wilson appeared in person and informed both parties of his intentions during a closed-door hearing Thursday morning prior to third day of testimony, said Wilson’s attorney Steve Bragg. The notification should prevent Wilson from being called to testify.
Both men have confessed to individual roles in the June 19, 2008, robbery and shooting death of the Rev. Mark McCalla. Both were absent without leave from Fort Drum.
On Wednesday, Smith and 14 jurors watched his video-recorded confession Wednesday to close the second day of testimony in the 24-year-old’s murder and robbery trial.
An indictment charges Smith and Wilson with robbery and murder. A state forestry worker found McCalla’s body dragged from a pool of blood at a secluded shooting range in the Beech Fork Wildlife Management Area.
Smith's recorded confession, taken after Smith and Wilson were arrested about a week after the killing in Columbus, Ohio, was laced with profanity in spots. Smith vocalized thoughts of suicide multiple times.
Smith resisted questioning early on in the video. He eventually confessed to certain deeds upon learning a fellow soldier questioned by authorities in Cabell County already had told police about his involvement. Smith confessed to dragging the minister's body, but blamed Wilson for pulling the trigger on a military-assault weapon taken from Fort Drum. McCalla was shot in the head.
"After (Wilson) shot him, I freaked and I ain't going to lie. My heart was beating real bad. 'I was like Holy (expletive), dude,'" Smith said in the recording. "There was a lot of blood and (expletive). I freaked. I didn't know what to do, so the first thing I did was (expletive) move the body."
Huntington Police Sgt. David Castle testified the fatal shot damaged protective ear muffs, which McCalla had been wearing for target practice. The avid outdoorsman was pastor at Huntington's Highlawn Presbyterian Church.
Smith showed no emotion during the 90-minute video recording. His attorney, public defender Larry Lewis, offered no cross-examination of the interviewer, Agent Thomas Crawford of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Smith told Crawford he and Wilson sold the alleged murder weapon, two of McCalla's guns and two others to a man in Newport News, Va., the weekend following the minister's death. They returned to a fellow soldier's home in West Virginia. They confessed to their friend and fled when news reports surfaced they had been identified. Authorities intercepted their bus during a layover in Columbus, Ohio. They were on their way to Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the video interview, Smith compared his role in McCalla's death to killing one of God's messengers, saying he felt as if he had "Spit in the face of God." He closed with saying, "That's my story boss. There's nothing else to it."
The video confession ended the trial's first full day of testimony. It included seven witnesses, all from the prosecution.
James A. Kaplan, state chief medical examiner, said McCalla bled to death, but indicated the bullet caused massive brain injuries not consistent with life. He said it is reasonable to assume McCalla's death occurred very quickly.
Dana Sutton, a Presbyterian campus minister at Marshall University, testified to seeing McCalla at a church work-camp just hours before the shooting.
Michael Griffith of Huntington recalled shooting at the range prior to McCalla's arrival. Griffith testified he and the minister made small talk, and then Griffith started packing up.
Griffith testified another vehicle, this one with New York tags, arrived as he was preparing to leave. The vehicle's passenger wore a Mohawk hairstyle and walked toward the range with a gun case. His driver stayed at the New York vehicle as if he were unloading equipment. Evidence indicates Wilson wore the Mohawk, while Smith drove the car.
Griffith recalled telling Wilson, "Hello." He said the suspect acknowledged his greeting with a normal response, but nothing suspicious.
"There wasn't anything unusual," he said.
Griffith notified authorities the next morning as to what he had witnessed. On Tuesday, Plymale credited Griffith with providing investigators with their first significant break in the case.
Lewis did not cross examine Crawford or Sutton. He questioned other witnesses about Smith's actions. Griffith told Lewis he recognized no suspicious activity.
Castle and Kaplan said they found no evidence to suggest Smith pulled the trigger.