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Closed murder-trial hearing held

John HartMartin Daugherty enters a Nevada City courtroom Tuesday for closed-door testimony.
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Tall, gaunt and slow-moving, Martin Daugherty – his leather jacket sporting a Lucky 8 ball design – walked from a hallway bench into a courtroom, then eased into a chair.

Soon after, the doors closed and paper was taped over the windows. A pair of signs said, “Closed hearing. Do not enter.”



Inside sat murder defendant Charles “Chuck” James Smith, a judge, court reporter, bailiff, victim/witness advocate, prosecutor, defense lawyer, investigators and a video camera operator.




Daugherty was expected to tell them what he allegedly saw Feb. 16, when Julie Biswell was stabbed to death in the Big Oak Valley mobile home they shared near Smartville.

The hearing was closed to the public by Judge M. Kathleen Butz after Smith’s lawyer, Monica Lynch, last week argued that allowing media coverage would taint prospective jurors.

The 47-year-old Daugherty, frail from congestive heart failure, diabetes and high-blood pressure, is giving his testimony in case he’s unavailable for trial. He smoked a cigarette alone on the courthouse steps after nearly a full day of testimony and is scheduled to return today.

Lynch and Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull said a gag order prevents them from discussing the testimony.

Kull’s office requested the hearing, which is called a conditional examination. If Daugherty is available for trial, he will testify again; if not, jurors will watch the video.

Hospitalized after Biswell’s slaying, Daugherty’s condition has since improved, said his neighbor and tenant, Stacy Rhodes.

“Marty’s doing really good. He’s getting better. We finally got his medication on schedule. He’s not retaining a lot of fluid anymore and hopefully he’s not ending up in the hospital anymore,” she said.

Rhodes said Daugherty, 47, has fallen down stairs a couple times, so they’re pricing walkie-talkie devices that would let him quickly call for help.

Biswell, 41, had been Daugherty’s caregiver, and Rhodes said she has filled in while Daugherty looks for a permanent replacement.

Rhodes said she and Daugherty have agreed to disagree on Smith’s fate.

“I don’t think it’s right that Chuck should get life, and Marty feels different. Other than that, we don’t discuss it,” she said.

Smith lived in a cabin on Daugherty’s Hutto Road property, just east of the Yuba County line, and Rhodes lives with her boyfriend and children in another mobile home on the property.

Two 911 calls were made the day of the killing – the first by Biswell, the second by Daugherty, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Smith, described as Biswell’s sometime boyfriend, was arrested a few hours later in his cabin.

A next-door neighbor, Lou “Cappy” Silva, said he visited a resigned and aloof Smith at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility soon after the killing and gave him a few bucks for spending money.

Smith initially didn’t know why he was arrested because he had possibly blacked out from too much alcohol, but he later became “pretty bummed, depressed,” according to Silva.

“It’s hard to describe. Just looking in his eyes, he knows he made a big mistake. Just trying to say goodbye, I choked up myself,” said Silva, who described Smith as helpful and kind most of the time.

Smith remains at the correctional facility without bail.


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