Dramatic evidence outlined in murder trial
What thoughts raged through Charles “Chuck” James Smith’s mind as he twice plunged a knife into Julie Biswell’s chest, killing her at her Smartville-area home last winter?
During opening statements at his murder trial Thursday, Smith’s lawyer provided a glimpse into her strategy by suggesting Smith’s mental state created impressions – whether actual or perceived – that he needed to act in self-defense.
Defense lawyer Monica Lynch conceded Smith stabbed Biswell.
“That’s not going to be in dispute at all,” she told the jury of nine women and three men in Nevada County Superior Court.
But a mix of alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine possibly led Smith to think he needed to protect himself, and that Biswell might have had a gun in the chaotic minutes before she died, Lynch said.
A Reno doctor will testify about Smith’s mental ability, and a Sacramento doctor will testify on the effects of drugs and alcohol on thought processes.
Earlier, jurors heard what Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull described as “19 minutes of terror.”
Without speaking, Kull opened by playing Biswell’s 911 call on Feb. 16 to a Sheriff’s Office dispatcher from her trailer in Big Oak Valley.
Biswell, 41, was the caregiver for property owner Martin Daugherty, 47, and they shared a trailer. Smith, 40, lived in a nearby cabin on the same property.
A frantic Biswell first reported that Smith beat her up while holding a machete to her neck in the cabin. Both were drunk, test results later showed.
Smith then broke into the trailer, Biswell told the dispatcher. She screamed, and the phone line went dead.
The dispatcher called her, and again the line went dead.
Biswell then picked up after the dispatcher redialed. “I will shoot the … bastard!” she said.
The 19 minutes ended with a 911 call from Daugherty.
“We need an ambulance,” Daugherty told the dispatcher before turning to his caregiver. “Julie … Julie … Julie. C’mon, breathe for me. Breathe for me. Julie, breathe.”
Biswell died in the living room, topless, on her back, Kull said.
She showed jurors slides of the crime scene and Biswell’s autopsy, but not all jurors turned toward the projection screen.
Smith sometimes looked at the screen. He occasionally shook his head in disagreement with Kull’s claims. Biswell’s parents, Penn Valley-area residents, were also in the courtroom.
Jealous rage led to the stabbing, Kull said. Biswell and Smith had a sexual relationship, but she had found a new man.
“If I can’t have you, no one will have you,” Smith allegedly said, according to Kull.
The prosecutor also played a jailhouse phone recording in which Smith told a friend that Biswell’s death meant “one less bitch in the world.”
Before stabbing Biswell, Smith struck her with a knife sheath and a shotgun. In the trailer, Kull said, Smith shot a revolver in Biswell’s direction, and the bullet passed through the chair she was sitting in and lodged in a stereo speaker.
While a murder weapon was never identified, deputies found two knives and a handgun outside the trailer, where it had rained throughout the night. No blood or fingerprints were discovered, Kull said, but the suspected murder weapon – the longer of the two knives – was long enough for the 5- to 8-inch depth of Biswell’s fatal chest wound.
Lynch challenged Kull’s take on Biswell’s final few minutes.
“Yes, I have a gun,” Biswell told the dispatcher, according to Lynch.
Lynch also accused Daugherty of perjury. The lone eyewitness, Daugherty waited a month before disclosing that a gun was involved in the killing.
He later lied and said the gun was Smith’s, Lynch said. It turned out the gun was possibly stolen, and Daugherty feared getting in trouble.
Daugherty won’t testify in court because of life-threatening health problems, including congestive heart failure and diabetes.
Instead, jurors began hearing Daugherty’s roughly 11 hours of videotaped testimony from a closed hearing in April. The trial is expected to last about two more weeks, with testimony resuming Tuesday.
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