86-to-life for grisly stabbing of woman
Silent throughout his murder trial, Charles James “Chuck” Smith maintained that demeanor Wednesday even as he was ripped by his victim’s family and sentenced to 86 years to life in prison.
The 40-year-old Smartville-area man’s punishment was issued by Nevada County Superior Court Judge Ersel Edwards, who called Smith a “monster” for the Feb. 16, 2002 stabbing death of Smith’s ex-girlfriend, Julie Biswell.
That came after Biswell’s family laid into Smith.
“I never thought I’d be up here looking at her killer. Yeah, you,” Biswell’s sister, Jill Torkelson said after gaining eye contact with Smith.
Biswell’s youngest of three children, 14-year-old Amanda Biswell, fought tears as she discussed losing her mother. Biswell’s father, Bruce Pusheck, talked about the family’s range of emotions – from anger to relief – as Smith’s case culminated in conviction.
“But frankly, that pain will never go away entirely,” he said.
In November, a jury convicted Smith of first-degree murder and assault, firearms and threat charges.
Biswell, 41, died from two chest wounds in a Big Oak Valley trailer she shared with the property owner, Martin Daugherty. Smith lived in a nearby cabin on the same property.
Jurors heard Biswell’s 911 call that Smith threatened to kill her in his cabin for not having sex with him. Later, Biswell yelled that Smith busted into the trailer. The phone went dead and minutes later, Daugherty, his voice weak from congestive heart failure, reported Biswell was on the floor with a “sucking” chest wound.
Quiet at all court appearances, Smith’s thoughts on the case emerged in a Probation Department presentence report. Made public Wednesday, it shows he plans to appeal his conviction and claims he was “railroaded” for being denied a trial outside Nevada County because of pretrial publicity.
Smith also said forensic evidence was misconstrued and that Biswell was “not in fear for her life. It was all drama.”
“I feel bad but it was an accident,” he told a probation officer. “She was always hanging on me, and because we were sleeping together, she felt she could walk in at any time. … She was cramping my style.”
He also made excuses for kicking out a squad car window on his way to jail.
“They should have stronger cars,” he said. “When you tie somebody up and throw them in the back they’re going to be pissed.”
At sentencing, Smith automatically faced 25 years to life in prison for his first-degree murder conviction. The 25 years were tripled because the killing marked a third strike under the three-strikes laws, and additional charge enhancements added 11 years.
“My goal was to make sure he never got out of prison again, and I accomplished that goal,” Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull said.
In the probation report, Kull claims Smith’s record includes at least 10 incidents in 20 years involving bladed weapons.
Smith’s lawyer, Monica Lynch of Roseville, declined comment.
Judge Edwards rejected a defense motion to erase one or more of the strikes. The first was a 1982 conviction in Nevada County for stealing a handgun, the second for battery with a deadly weapon, a knife, in Carson City in 1991.
“The murder of Julie Biswell was the act of a monster who tortured his victim over the course of many minutes,” Edwards said.
Little was revealed about Smith’s personal life before sentencing.
The probation report says he was born in Williamsport, Ind., had 11 years of education, and came under Nevada County’s radar in 1978, when he was reprimanded as a juvenile for theft charges that were dismissed.
Smith also claimed having an estranged wife and didn’t know if their divorce had been finalized.
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