Killer dies; possible overdose
Three days after he was banished to up to life in prison, convicted murderer Charles James “Chuck” Smith died in a San Joaquin County hospital, possibly of a drug overdose.
The 40-year-old former Smartville-area man died early Saturday morning in Doctors Hospital in Manteca after he was found unresponsive in his cell at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy on Friday afternoon.
An overdose of medication was deemed the tentative cause of death, but the official cause will hinge on toxicology results due in up to six weeks, DVI spokesman Arturo Martinez said Monday.
Martinez said an autopsy performed Sunday showed no preliminary hypodermic needle marks and that Smith’s body had signs of pre-existing medical problems. Martinez said he didn’t know which kind of medication was suspected.
Authorities aren’t calling it a suicide, although he was under suicide watch in Wayne Brown Correctional Facility soon after his November conviction in Nevada County Superior Court, his lawyer, Monica Lynch said Monday.
Last Wednesday, Smith was sentenced to 86 years to life in prison.
Lynch said Smith had been distraught since his guilty verdict Nov. 21, but deputies took necessary precautions.
“Charles was very uncomfortable and very not himself, and they were aware of it and took every precaution to deal with it,” she said.
The prosecutor in Smith’s case, Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull, was at a conference Monday and unavailable for comment.
Smith was convicted of fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend, 41-year-old Julie Biswell, on Feb. 16, 2001. She lived in a Hutto Road trailer in Big Oak Valley, where she cared for the ill-stricken property owner, and Smith lived in a nearby cabin on the same property.
Evidence at trial showed Smith threatened Biswell with a knife in his cabin, after she refused to have sex with him, and later stabbed her to death in the trailer. Jurors heard Biswell’s desperate series of 911 conversations with a dispatcher in which she identified Smith as her attacker.
After sentencing, a presentence report quoted Kull noting that Smith’s criminal record included at least 10 incidents involving bladed weapons.
One of his convictions stemmed from a knife attack on a roommate in Carson City that brought a five-year prison sentence.
A Probation Department report showed Smith described his medical condition as “not good.” He suffered from constant headaches from a 1978 concussion and complained of hemorrhoids. He also claimed having a nervous breakdown after his conviction and said he was prescribed “something to keep me calm,” the report says.
The news of Smith’s death met with mixed reactions.
Biswell’s father, Bruce Pusheck of the Penn Valley area, said he had no thoughts to share.
Lou Silva, Smith’s former neighbor in Big Oak Valley, was stunned.
Silva visited Smith at jail after sentencing to chat and pick up earrings Smith wore the night of his arrest. They didn’t discuss suicide, and Silva said he didn’t notice any signs of distress.
“He was ready to go to prison where he got a little more freedom than being in a small box,” he said.
Smith rarely discussed family, Silva said, but Smith’s mother once visited him in jail.
Silva said he recently put money in Smith’s account so they could stay in contact by phone. “He was always a nice guy to me.”
Smith was transported to Deuel Vocation Institute on Thursday. He was taken to the Manteca hospital at 2 p.m. Friday after being found unresponsive in his cell, and he was declared dead at 2:35 a.m. Saturday.
For convicts sentenced to prison, Deuel Vocational Institute is often a first stop. Inmates are assessed based on their crime, age and other factors to determine the appropriate prison.
California Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Heimerich said DVI houses about 3,900 inmates, with most of them awaiting trips to other prisons.
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