ST. GEORGE —A 5th District Court jury deliberated less than an hour Thursday before finding 59-year-old Steven Timothy Smith guilty of the murder of his wife inside of their home in Ivins – a home the wife was moving out of on the day the incident took place.
The jury began deliberations shortly after 11:30 a.m., and by 12:15 p.m., they returned with a verdict: guilty of first-degree murder.
The verdict was read after a four-day trial held before District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox that began with jury selection on Monday.
Smith was charged with a shooting reported May 22, when Santa Clara-Ivins Police officers were responding to the report of a gunshot around 6:30 p.m. in the area of 1020 South and 375 East in Ivins. According to a probable cause statement, the person who called dispatch said a man had “shot his wife after being told she was leaving him.”
When officers arrived, they discovered the victim, Shawntell Smith, had sustained several gunshot injuries. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Timothy Smith was found with blood on his hands and his clothing, and the report says he told officers “he did not remember what happened between the time he told nonfamily members to leave the residence and when officers arrived on the scene.” Officers took Smith into custody, and he was later charged with first-degree murder.
A world that was already collapsing
During the trial, Washington County prosecutor Jerry Jaeger outlined in his opening arguments the series of events that unfolded on that day in May.
Jaeger told the court that minutes before the shooting, the defendant walked out of the bedroom and found his wife in the kitchen, where he began firing the gun “over and over and over again until he completely unloaded (the gun).”
One of the couple’s teenage sons walked into the kitchen and saw his father standing near his mother lying on the floor bleeding. He was followed by an older adult sister, Jaeger said, who realized that her mother was still breathing, “but not very well.”
At that point, the daughter called 911 and then attempted to perform CPR, but Jaeger said she was unable to continue due being “petrified” and because of the extensive bleeding. All three siblings, including another teenage son, went outside at that point, leaving the defendant alone in the house, which is when the state contended that Smith hid the gun.
When emergency personnel arrive, they were unable to find a pulse on the victim, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officers entered the home in search of the gun, which was found hidden in a closet minutes later, along with more than $21,600 in cash and a box of ammunition. The box, Jaeger said, was missing seven rounds, the same number of bullets that were fired in the kitchen.
During an interview with police, Smith admitted to shooting his wife and went on to say he had “thrown everything away,” the prosecutor said, continuing to tell the jury the case is straightforward – calling the shooting a “hit.” He said the evidence would prove Smith as guilty.
Smith’s defense attorney, Nathan Reeve, told the court during his opening that his client had several health issues, including diabetes that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. He went on to say Smith could no longer support himself as he had for years.
Reeve said that just as Smith was reaching retirement age, his world was collapsing as his wife told him she was leaving.
During later testimony, it would be revealed that Smith’s wife already had an apartment she and her two sons were planning on moving into. In fact, they were busy moving out of the Ivins residence on the day of the incident, according to a longtime neighbor of the couple, Paul Hurt, who testified during trial.
Hurt told the court he and his wife were helping the defendant’s wife and were loading items into a pickup truck shortly before the shooting took place. When Smith returned home, Hurt said he asked both he and his wife to leave the property.
Minutes after returning home, Hurt said, Smith’s daughter pulled up near their home and said her mother had been shot. Hurt also called 911 and then drove over to pick up the defendant’s 14-year-old son who was found nearby, sobbing “uncontrollably.”
Reeve said during his opening statement that the shooting made no sense because his client was unable to think clearly, and he asked the jury to put themselves in his client’s shoes at that moment when everything was falling apart.
‘It’s important that you make the right decision’
Prosecutor Eric Gentry began his closing arguments by summarizing the testimony given by the defendant on Wednesday when Smith took the stand and “showed his true colors.”
“You would almost think that he is the victim in the case,” Gentry said.
He reminded the jury that a good mother, neighbor, woman and friend was the one who was shot to death in her own home with her children there. The reason was because she began to take control of her life after realizing she was in a bad marriage.
At the same time, Gentry said, Smith was losing control.
Gentry also went over a family meeting called shortly before the shooting, when Shawntell Smith brought the whole family into the office where Timothy Smith was already sitting and told him that she was leaving and taking the children. The prosecutor went on to say shortly after the family meeting, Smith left the home and withdrew all of the money out of the account
Neighbors and friends and other confidants who knew about her plans before the family meeting had been concerned for her as she made the arrangements to move with her boys, Gentry said, and on the day of the family meeting and the move, “well, you all know what happened after that.”
Gentry said after Smith returned home and told the neighbors to leave his house, he walked into the master bedroom where he stored his guns and loaded the firearm, then walked into the kitchen and proceeded to shoot his wife seven times, each of the bullets hitting their target.
All the while, Gentry said, Smith believed it was “all her fault.”
Gentry said the charge of first-degree murder requires that Smith intentionally shot his wife and caused her death – a point that was made apparent by the number of times he shot her.
“It’s important that you make the right decision,” Gentry said to the jury.
During Reeve’s closing arguments, he reminded the jury his client never intended for the shooting to happen and that Smith never thought what happened was okay, not while taking the stand nor at any other time.
“He never intended for this to happen,” Reeve said, adding that the case came down to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the incident and whether he knew what he was doing.
“I’m telling you he did not have the wherewithal to form the intent to do anything,” the defense attorney said.
Reeve went on to say that Smith was a broken man and that his family was everything, and as the couple was coming up on their 30th wedding anniversary, Reeve said Smith realized his marriage was broken as well.
Reeve said the way Smith was described during the trial did not accurately reflect who the defendant was, adding that even when Smith’s son beat him senseless following the shooting, his client still remained calm.
He also referred to Detective Nicholas Tobler’s testimony that Smith said he could not remember the incident clearly, which was likely due to his world falling apart all around him.
Even as things were collapsing, Reeve said, Smith had no time to process what was going on. He said his client was so confused on the day of the incident that he could not remember even simple tasks.
When his son asked his father why he shot his mother, Smith replied by saying, “I have nothing left.”
Those are the words of a man who did not intend to live, Reeve said, and he cited Smith’s testimony when he gave an account of that day and said how sorry he was for what happened.
Smith did not intend to shoot his wife, Reeve said.
Gentry countered during his rebuttal by saying Smith’s confused state of mind did not prevent him from forming intent. Everything Smith did on that day showed intent, the prosecutor said, adding that even after shooting his wife, the defendant said it was his wife’s fault.
He also said the case was not about the defendant’s motive or whether he was a good father and husband. Instead, Gentry said, it was about the defendant’s decisions and actions that were present on that day, intentions that Gentry said resulted in a calculated, cold-blooded murder.
He then referred to a comment made by Smith during his interview with police, when the defendant explained why he had put seven bullets in the gun that day. Smith told detectives that due to his prior police training, he learned “you load whatever you shoot.”
“He clearly intended to kill her,” Gentry said.
The jury began deliberations shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, and approximately 45 minutes later they returned with the guilty verdict.
Following the verdict, Brandon Merrill, founder and executive director of Utah Homicide Survivors, reached out to St. George News with a comment from the children of the victim, who stated, “our mother was killed in a cold, callous, and intentional manner.” The statement went on to say that Smith has continued to try to play the victim throughout the entire process.
“We are satisfied the jury saw through this façade for what he really is,” the statement said.
Smith is scheduled to appear in 5th District Court on Jan. 22 for sentencing.
St. George News reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this report.
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