Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.
The California Attorney General has decided to appeal a Court of Appeal ruling that overturned the first degree murder conviction of Marvin Vernis Smith, a wealthy liquor store owner who police say murdered his wife with a fire place poker and then staged the crime scene to look like a simple 2005 burglary gone terribly wrong.
Smith pretended to be distraught at his wife's brutal demise and wept as he described $200,000 worth of jewelry the killer had stolen from a bedroom floor safe in the couple's luxurious Cypress residence, according to police detectives.
But there was an incredible, unscripted Hollywood moment in the case.
Inside the trunk of one of Smith's cars he kept in a Los Angeles garage, Cypress police found all the allegedly stolen jewels wrapped in the same type of duct tape the killer had used to bind Minnie Smith.
Smith, didn't take the witness stand at his 2007 trial, but his defense centered on his claim that he couldn't have physically murdered his wife because he'd sustained a serious shoulder injury weeks prior to the crime and the killer had forcefully swung the murder weapon.
But an Orange County jury agreed with veteran homicide prosecutor Michael F. Murray and found Smith guilty.
The defendant's high-priced legal defense team of Jennifer Keller and Kay Rackauckas, ex wife of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, appealed the conviction. They claimed that Superior Court Judge Daniel Barrett McNerney gave jurors a faulty jury instruction on aiding and abetting when there was no evidence that Smith acted with an accomplice. In March, a Santa Ana-based court of appeal agreed.
Robin Derman with the Attorney General's office wrote in her petition to the California Supreme Court that McNerney's error was "harmless" because prosecutor Murray's case was solidly built on the theory that Smith--who'd been cheating on his wife and had voiced anger over splitting a $5 million fortune with her if there was a divorce--acted alone and, she says, that's most likely what jurors believed.
Next it's up to the supreme court to decide if it wants to accept the AG's petition. Meanwhile, Smith remains in prison serving a 25 years to life sentence.
You can read my feature on the trial HERE
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly