Lady Killer

An OC jury ponders this question: Who is the right-handed man who murdered Minnie Smith?

About 30 minutes later, Smith drove up and found amazed police officers, including McShane. The detective consulted a prosecutor, and then swiftly placed Smith under arrest. Bennie showed up and couldn't believe the turn of events. Was his stepfather, the man who'd helped raise him, a killer?

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Finding the jewelry Smith reported stolen by the killer in the trunk of Smith's car is one of prosecutor Murray's strongest cards. Police see the fact as devastating to the defense. If the eight women and four men on the jury vote to convict, that Perry Mason moment will have been key.

But Keller isn't conceding the point. Indeed, she has an explanation that she says renders the jewelry recover moot for the prosecution. According to her, Smith mistakenly reported the items stolen. It was his custom to hide his wife's jewelry in a car trunk when he was upset, she says.

To support her claim, Keller planned to summon to the witness stand Ada Moses, who was married to Smith until 1976. Moses remains "best friends‚" with the accused killer. She attends court each day and smiles warmly at Smith when deputies bring him into the courtroom. Keller wanted Moses to tell jurors that during her marriage to Smith, he hid her jewelry in car trunks when he was angry.

But Judge McNerney didn't buy it. Outside the presence of the jury, he blocked the statement. When Moses took the stand on Dec. 11, she told a different story: She had seen two small plastic bags of men's and women's jewelry inside the trunk of Smith's Mercedes three months before the murder. Keller asked Moses if she'd lie for her ex-husband. "Not at all," she replied.

Murray looked incredulous. Moses' fresh claim aimed directly at the heart of the prosecution's case. She'd always refused to give police an interview, and she waited until October of this year to tell one of Keller's associates about her observation. The prosecutor wanted to know why she'd withheld such serious information from law enforcement and "let Marvin sit in jail for two years."

"Frankly, it's my impression that you massage the truth," Moses shot back.

Asked outside the courtroom if he found Moses credible, Murray cocked his head to the right, raised an eyebrow, smiled and said, "No comment."

Update: See this case's verdict over at our staff blog, Navel Gazing.

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