in a California prison this afternoon, a wealthy Cypress man convicted of
murdering his wife is probably shouting with joy. A state court of appeal based
in Santa Ana has overturned the 2007 jury conviction and 25 years to life
sentence for liquor store-owner Marvin V. Smith. Law enforcement officers
believe Smith killed his wife and staged the crime scene to look like a
burglary gone terribly wrong. But according to a three-justice panel, Superior
Court Judge Dan McNerney made prejudicial errors that violated Smith's right to
a fair trial.
“On appeal, Smith asserts several claims of evidentiary and instructional error,”
wrote Acting Presiding Justice William F. Rylaarsdam. “We agree. . . “
The appellate panel determined that McNerney should not have allowed prosecutor
Michael F. Murray to tell jurors in his closing argument that they could convict
Smith of murder whether they thought he did the killing himself or aided and
abetted the killer. McNerney compounded the mistake by giving jurors an instruction
on aiding and abetting for their deliberations, according to the justices.
“The request for instruction on aiding and abetting came after the close of evidence
because [Murray] was concerned the strength of the defense evidence might
engender a reasonable doubt as to this theory in the minds of some jurors,”
The justices also determined that jurors had serious doubts about Murray's case
because of a request they made review defense evidence that Smith had been
physically incapable of committing the murder because he'd undergone shoulder
surgery weeks prior to the crime.
Having covered all phases of this trial, I can report that Murray never appeared worried about the strength of his evidence and that numerous jurors told me that they believe
Smith had acted alone.
It's odd to me that in slamming Murray and McNerney on the aiding and abetting
issue, the justices failed to mention in their discussion that it was Smith's
defense lawyer, Jennifer L. Keller, who first raised the topic in her closing
argument. And it was Keller who strenuously suggested during the trial that
another man, one of Smith's employees, had been the actual killer.
Nonetheless, the court of appeal says Smith is entitled to a new trial.
Dave Brent, head of the homicide prosecution unit for the DA's office, told me this
afternoon that the office will review the appellate opinion in conjunction with
the attorney general's office to determine if the ruling merits an appeal to
the California Supreme Court.
According to law enforcement, Smith brutally murdered his wife Minnie on December 15,
2005 with a fireplace log roller, left her corpse in a degrading nude position
and staged the crime scene to suggest a burglary gone wrong. Smith–who was
having multiple sexual affairs at the time–gave inconsistent statements to
police, had a history of violence and gained several million dollars from his
wife's demise. It didn't help that $200,000 worth of jewels he claimed the
burglar/killer had stolen were eventually recovered in the trunk of a Mercedes
Smith keep in a Los Angeles garage. The jewelry was stored in a box that had
been wrapped with the same type of duct tape the killer had used to bind his
Keller, who refused to take my call this afternoon, had argued that Smith wasn't home
during the killing and had no motive to want his wife of 28 years dead because
he loved her.
–R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly