Quick murder verdict: guilty
Jurors needed just six hours to reach the verdict Julie Biswell’s family both hoped for and expected.
Charles James “Chuck” Smith was found guilty Thursday of all six felony counts he faced for the Feb. 16 stabbing death of Biswell in her Smartville-area trailer.
From the hushed courtroom came a restrained “Yes!” after Clerk Karen Driscoll announced the most serious conviction – first-degree murder.
“I pity him,” Biswell’s father, Bruce Pusheck, said later. “I feel sorry for him, but he got what he deserved. He really got what he deserved.”
In court, family members patted Biswell’s mother, Jane Pusheck, on the back as about 35 people – family members, investigators, court workers and victim advocates – looked on. Three women in matching violet shirts from the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition also watched.
Smith, meanwhile, maintained the stoic look he’s had since jury selection began Oct. 29.
But later, as Judge Ersel Edwards asked him a series of questions, Smith tossed up his hands, sighed and rocked his chair. “It’s all confusing,” he told the judge.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 13, and Smith at the very least faces 26 years to life in prison. But, Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull said, “he could be looking at three times that or more” because the convictions could constitute a third strike under the state’s three-strikes law.
Jurors wound up buying Kull’s argument that Smith taunted, tortured and ultimately killed Biswell, his ex-girlfriend, after becoming enraged about her meeting a new man.
Biswell, 41, and Smith, 40, lived on the same Big Oak Valley property on Hutto Road. Biswell was a live-in caregiver for Martin Daugherty in his trailer home, and Smith resided in a nearby cabin.
Kull showed evidence that Smith put a machete to Biswell’s throat in the cabin and later broke into the trailer. He struck her with a shotgun barrel and fired a bullet from a handgun into the chair she was sitting in before stabbing her twice in the chest.
A series of 911 calls by Biswell and Daugherty bolstered Kull’s case, along with a jailhouse call by Smith and physical evidence.
“The evidence was there, and the jury did a solid job of evaluating the tough issues,” Kull said.
That evidence proved insurmountable for Smith’s lawyer, Monica Lynch, who disagreed with the jury’s assessment but respected its decision.
“I think any time you have a death, with an admitted killing, you have an uphill battle,” she said.
While Smith admitted stabbing Biswell, Lynch argued that his intoxication made it impossible to form the intent necessary for a murder conviction.
Also, she said, his intoxication led him to at least perceive Biswell had a gun and that he needed to act in self-defense. In 1991, Smith claimed self-defense for stabbing his roommate in Carson City, Nev., and he was sentenced to five years in prison.
In the end, it didn’t take long for the jury of nine women and three men to convict on all six counts. Forewoman Marlene Dresbach said a consensus was reached as jurors reviewed the elements necessary for a first-degree murder conviction.
“I think the path that (Smith) took was unquestionable,” she said.
Outside the courtroom, Biswell’s family members thanked Kull, investigators, victim advocates and jurors.
Among the family was the youngest of Biswell’s three daughters, 14-year-old Amanda Biswell.
“I feel sorry for him,” she said of Smith. “He just made the worst decision, and it affected so many people.”
Julie Biswell, Bruce Pusheck said, was a bright woman with a high IQ. She grew up in Alamo in the Bay Area and earned her general equivalency degree after two years of high school.
“But she always had an alcohol problem, and that came back to hurt her,” he said.
Biswell’s family vaguely knew of Smith but never met him. During her last Christmas dinner at the Pushecks’ home, her parents asked if Smith should be joining them.
“She said he wouldn’t fit in,” Bruce Pusheck said.
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