An accused murderer pressured his pregnant girlfriend to have an abortion and when she refused, found someone to shoot her in the head to avoid paying child support, according to a prosecutor as a trial wrapped up.
But a defense attorney had a completely different story for jurors, arguing that his client has no link to the accused gunman and the real shooter remains at large.
Derek Paul Smyer, 35, was arrested in 2011 and charged with two counts of murder 10 years after the Sept. 25, 2001, killings of 27-year-old Crystal Taylor and her unborn son.
Taylor had a 10-year-old son, Javonte, and planned to name the baby Jeremiah, according to the prosecution.
“It was really the baby that Smyer wanted dead,” Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers told the seven-man, five-woman jury during closing arguments Monday.
Smyer is also charged with two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The alleged gunman, 34-year-old Skyler Jefferson Moore, is being tried separately. Moore is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for another 2001 murder, and prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against him.
Meyers argued that Smyer “set this crime in motion,” when he told Moore, a gang member who he met in a local park, to “get rid of her.”
Moore agreed to kill Taylor in exchange for Smyer’s support of his gang, according to the prosecutor.
“That young woman, 5 1/2 months pregnant, didn’t know what hit her,” Meyers told the jury panel. “Her only crime was … to say, ‘I’m gonna have this baby’ and she paid for it with her life.”
Meyers pointed to what she said was a pattern by Smyer, detailing attacks on the mother of his two daughters, Traci Williamson.
“When does a coincidence not become a coincidence?” Meyers asked jurors.
In April 1998, Williamson, then seven to eight months pregnant, was attacked by a man with a knife in an alley. Both she and the baby survived.
When Williamson became pregnant again, just months after Taylor was killed, she was again attacked in her third trimester, this time by a man who knocked her to the ground and punched her in the stomach 20-30 times, Meyer said. The baby and Williamson survived.
“Traci was lucky. Crystal wasn’t so lucky,” Meyers said.
Defense attorney Calvin Schneider III said the killings were “absolutely tragic,” but warned jurors that “it will become compounded if you convict someone who is not involved.”
Schneider suggested that another gunman with a more personal or gang- related motive shot Taylor, showing the jury panel an artist’s sketch of the suspect alongside a photo of Moore.
“It’s not the same guy,” Schneider said.
During the trial, the juror saw video of a Nov. 6, 2011, interview with Moore in which he confessed to shooting Taylor in the head, along with other unrelated murders.
Moore said Smyer told him Taylor was “trying to trap him.”
Moore said he shot Taylor in the cerebellum, explaining to a detective and a prosecutor, “It’s a very important part of the brain” and a bullet there would leave “a zero survival possibility” and be “painless.”
Asked if he spoke to Taylor, Moore said he might have told her not to move.
Schneider reminded jurors that one witness heard a five-to-seven-minute argument just before the shooting, one of several questions the defense attorney said remained unanswered by the prosecution.
Moore had been in “the hole” in Sacramento State Prison for two years and confessed because he was promised a transfer to a prison in another state where he could walk the yard safely, according to the defense attorney.
In an earlier interview, Moore had emphatically denied killing the 27- year-old.
“I didn’t kill this lady and God knows it and I know it as well,” Moore said at the time.
Detective Elizabeth Smith confirmed that either she or her partner told Moore that “one hand washes the other.”
Smith testified that she also told Moore that the death penalty wasn’t on the table, something she thought she had the authority to offer.
Meyers maintained that Moore was “trying to clear his conscience” because he was shamed by killing a pregnant woman, something he alluded to in the interview.
Even if Moore were the shooter, Schneider said Smyer had no connection to him. Taylor’s friend testified that she had seen the two together in a local park, but Schneider said she never mentioned that to police in the immediate aftermath of Taylor’s death.
As for the accusations regarding Williamson, Schneider said the first attack may have been an attempted robbery, noting that the man with the knife reached for the woman’s throat and not her belly.
As Williamson’s first pregnancy was nearly full-term, such an attack didn’t seem to be targeting the baby, who would have likely survived Williamson’s death, the defense attorney said.
Schneider expressed skepticism about the alleged second attack and noted that Williamson didn’t report it to the police for 11 days.
Moreover, Smyer seemed to take his role as a father seriously, according to the defense attorney, getting a job to help support his first daughter.
“He goes and drops out of school so Traci can graduate,” the defense attorney said. “At 17, he’s trying to take responsibility.”
Showing the jury panel pictures of his client holding his newborn first daughter just weeks after the prosecution alleges he arranged to have Williamson attacked, Schneider said, “He looks like a proud father.”
The prosecution will have a chance to rebut the defense’s argument tomorrow morning before the jury is given instructions and sent to deliberate.
–City News Service