Man found guilty in pastor's killing
Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch
WAYNE, WV - U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Smith faces 37 years to life in prison for his role in the June 2008 robbery and killing of the Rev. Mark McCalla.
A jury of eight women and four men on Friday recommended life in prison with mercy for the murder conviction they delivered earlier in the day. Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt then ordered a 90-year prison sentence for robbery. The two punishments will run consecutively, with the murder sentence to be served first. Smith could be eligible for parole after serving at least 37 years and six months.
The Huntington minister's family expressed satisfaction with the guilty verdict and the recommended punishment.
"I'm smiling about it," said Sam McCalla, the victim's 14-year-old son. "I'm really happy about them saying 'guilty.'"
Smith was the first of two Army deserters to be tried in Wayne Circuit Court in connection with the killing of McCalla. The co-defendant and confessed triggerman, Pfc. Stephen Wilson, is scheduled to stand trial in December.
Both were absent without leave from Fort Drum, N.Y., when a forestry worker found McCalla's body June 19, 2008, hidden in weeds at a secluded gun range in the Beech Fork Wildlife Management Area. The 48-year-old pastor of Huntington's Highlawn Presbyterian Church and avid outdoorsman was taking target practice, after earlier serving breakfast at a nearby church camp.
Pratt chastised Smith for assisting Wilson, instead of turning him in to police.
"You had an opportunity in this case, if you were surprised by what Mr. Wilson did," Pratt said during sentencing. "You chose not to do the right thing."
It took jurors about 90 minutes to agree upon the guilty verdict. They needed another 70 minutes to return the life with mercy recommendation. The mercy recommendation means Smith could be eligible for parole in 15 years, but Prosecutor Tom Plymale said any eligibility would be delayed at least 22 additional years because of Pratt's robbery sentence.
Pam McCalla, the pastor's widow, appreciated both punishments, referring to Pratt's decision as "more than fair." She appreciated his comments and strong stance. She said the guilty verdict means some closure for the family.
"It means that we don't have to wonder about what happens, and that we can move on," Pam McCalla.
However, she faulted Smith for not being remorseful. She said she believed he accepted duty responsibility, but never moral responsibility for his actions. Her feeling did not change with Smith's last-ditch effort for mercy.
"I feel horrible for the family, for all of the pain and suffering I caused," Smith testified before sentencing. "I want to apologize. I understand no matter what I say is going to do anything different or bring him back.
"I am sorry, and I hope you can forgive me one day," Smith added.
Pam McCalla referred to Smith's testimony as solicited. Her son believed Smith never would have uttered those words if he hadn't been convicted.
Smith's parents, Talton and Un Suk Smith of Columbia, S.C., were sequestered during most of the trial. Both testified in the sentencing phase. Both asked the jury to recommend mercy for their son, who turned 24 this week.
"I'm begging for you to do it," testified Talton Smith. "He's a good man."
Plymale was satisfied with the verdict, but would have preferred a punishment of life without mercy. He had reminded jurors that Robert Riner Jr., the fellow soldier whose house at which both suspects stayed, said Smith acted nonchalantly in telling him they had killed McCalla, as if doing so was part of the job.
"There is no clearer evidence of the cold-blooded nature of this person and this act," Plymale told the jury. "There is nothing that's been said in this case that makes him deserving of mercy. Nothing whatsoever, and I implore you: do justice. Do what is right. Mark McCalla deserves nothing less."
Smith's family declined comment outside of court. Their son nodded in appreciation when the jury offered him mercy. His public defender, Larry Lewis, had urged jurors to remember Smith's honorable service to his country and testimony from his friends, who called Smith a good person and credited him with saving a fellow soldier from suicide.
"Some day maybe the good in him can come out again," Lewis told jurors.
Pam McCalla and her son, Sam, were joined by friends and family throughout the week. Friday's supporters included four friends from Highlawn Presbyterian Church, three from neighboring Presbyterian churches and Gay Mothershed, the executive presbyter for the Presbytery of West Virginia.
"It will give us some satisfaction and relief," said church elder Charlie Woolcock, speaking on behalf of the Highlawn congregation.
Highlawn Presbyterian Church continues its search for a new leader, said Larry Lapelle, head of the church's pastor nominating committee. He watched Friday's proceedings and said replacing McCalla has been difficult, as the committee tries to guard against making unfair comparisons and keep its grief from affecting the process. So far, the Presbytery has offered the congregation names for 10 candidates. Five have been interviewed.
"We're trying very hard to just focus on the future, and not where we've come from. It's not easy," he said. "We're looking for somebody we can have a new relationship with and start anew because there is no way we can replace him. He was a remarkable minister."
Lewis had used closing arguments during the guilt phase to reinforce his belief that Smith was simply a follower with misguided, misplaced loyalty and trust to Wilson. Plymale countered, saying Smith may have cared about his friends, but he cared nothing for McCalla.
"He didn't worry about anything. This was all about him and his own needs, and how to achieve it," Plymale told jurors. "He did it with ruthless efficiency."
Plymale argued the evidence against Smith was "overwhelming." The prosecutor agreed that Wilson pulled the trigger, but he offered five examples as to how Smith cooperated, aiding and abetted his friend's act - he helped plan the robbery; gave Wilson permission to fire the fatal shot; dragged the body afterwards; stole a wallet from McCalla's body; and shared in the robbery's proceeds.
"There are no facts that move away from that," Plymale told the jury. "They can't give you one fact, supported by the evidence, that says he is not guilty."
Lewis told the jurors the facts stand, and asked for a "fair and just verdict." He did not ask for an acquittal.
"We can't change the facts," he told jurors. "If there was such a thing as a time machine to go back and change it, we would