Key witness in murder trial becomes ill |

Key witness in murder trial becomes ill

Health problems will keep the key witness in murder defendant Charles “Chuck” James Smith’s case from testifying at the trial, which started with jury selection Tuesday in Nevada County Superior Court.

Opening statements could begin Thursday, lawyers said, and the trial is scheduled to last about nine days.

A good chunk of the jury’s time will be spent watching the videotaped testimony of Martin Daugherty, who called 911 when Smith allegedly stabbed Julie Biswell after breaking into Daugherty’s Smartville-area trailer home on Feb. 16.

Daugherty testified before a camera for more than 11 hours during a closed hearing in April. The hearing was held in case Daugherty, 47, who suffers from congestive heart failure and other maladies, couldn’t testify because of health problems.

As it turns out, he isn’t healthy enough, Judge Ersel Edwards ruled last week after hearing medical testimony.

“Without going into too much detail, he’s a pretty sick man,” said Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull.

Daugherty’s physical condition was evident in a 911 call to the Sheriff’s Office that was replayed during a July court hearing. Between labored breaths, he can be heard describing Biswell’s final minutes alive.

Biswell, 41, was Daugherty’s live-in caregiver, and Smith, 40, who had dated Biswell, resided on Daugherty’s property in a one room cabin.

In court Tuesday, Smith, wearing a gray sport coat and blue shirt, sat next to his court-appointed lawyer, Monica Lynch, as jury selection focused on prospective jurors who couldn’t serve because of health and financial reasons.

One prospective juror, a pony-tailed man in leather motorcycle clothing, said he couldn’t be objective because a close acquaintance had died from a stabbing.

The judge excused him from the courtroom.

Smith is charged with murder, assault with a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm. Beyond the stabbing allegation, Smith is accused of striking Biswell with a shotgun and knife sheath, and firing Daugherty’s handgun in the trailer.

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