June 23, 2012 Source : http://www.delcotimes.com
MEDIA COURTHOUSE — A second Delaware County jury has decided on a death sentence for a Chester man who was convicted nearly two decades ago in the murder of 26-year-old Eileen Jones.
Jurors deliberated for about six hours before returning the repeat-decision for Wayne Smith. The decision capped a life-or-death battle among expert witnesses, which played out this week in a penalty phase trial resulting from Smith’s death-sentence appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Smith, now 56, reportedly showed no reaction when the decision was announced, or when Judge James Bradley remanded him to death row at SCI Rockview — where his death by lethal injection would be imposed. No execution date has been set. The last person to be executed in Pennsylvania was Gary M. Heidnik, on July 6, 1999, under former Gov. Tom Ridge.
Smith is currently serving time in a Greene County prison for the Nov. 18, 1994, strangulation of Jones. The Eddystone mother of two was three months pregnant at the time of death.
Assistant District Attorney Erica Parham, spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office, said she anticipates further legal proceedings.
“However, we are very satisfied with the decision of the jury,” she said. “The jury appropriately determined that the defendant’s prior conviction for voluntary manslaughter of a bar patron with a machete, a commonwealth aggravating factor, outweighed any mitigating factor presented by the defense.”
Under Pennsylvania law, death by lethal injections can only be sought in cases in which aggravating circumstances are present.
Smith was one of two men charged in 1980 in the fatal stabbing of a Chester resident in a bar. He pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and served a two- to four-year jail term.
The previous conviction was one of two aggravating circumstances cited by the prosecution in 1995. The second was that Jones’ killing occurred during the commission of a second felony of attempted rape.
Parham noted that Ed Martin, Jones’ father, was in the courtroom throughout the week and left about an hour before the jury returned with a decision, shortly before 7:30 p.m.
“He bravely endured the proceedings this week,” Parham said “He has felt the loss of his daughter since 1994. His presence showed his commitment to justice, and the Office of the District Attorney is just as committed.”
Smith was convicted of first-degree murder in May 1995 and given a death sentence. At that time, after the verdict he turned and apologized to the victim’s family for the strangulation.
“I’ll never forgive myself,” said Smith. “I just hope that in time the family and her kids will forgive me,” he added, while beginning to cry.
Jones’ partially clothed body was fished from the waters of Ridley Creek near Ninth Street — between the Chester and Eddystone border — on Nov. 22, 1994.
During the initial trial, the prosecution claimed Smith killed Jones after she rejected his sexual advances. Defense counsel Raymond Williams argued Smith killed the woman while in a cocaine-induced frenzy.
According to testimony given at trial this week, Smith had made an arrangement with Jones that she would give him sex in exchange for cocaine. After several hours spent with the victim, the sexual encounter occurred in a park near the Ninth Street Bridge, where the victim was later found.
Smith told police that at some point the two began wrestling on the ground, according to a statement read in court. He then became afraid that Jones, who is white, would say Smith had raped her. Smith said he did not believe a jury would believe him because he is black.
He strangled the woman and dragged her to the creek where her body was later discovered. Smith would have had to strangle Jones for two-and-a-half to three minutes to choke the life out of her, according to former Delaware County Medical Examiner Dr. Dimitri Contostavlos.
Smith initially lied to police about the murder, but later confessed, according to a taped statement played for the court.
He appealed the death penalty sentence to the state Supreme Court. The court affirmed the murder conviction in 2010, but ordered a new hearing on the death penalty. Because the murder conviction was upheld, only two options remained open to the new jury: Life imprisonment or death.
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