Richland Murder Trial

Richland murder trial: Portrait of an evil, or ‘fine, decent,’ ex-soldier?

jmonk@thestate.comJuly 23, 2013 

In opening arguments Tuesday in the murder trial of Marcus Bailey, 27, a 5th Circuit prosecutor sketched to a jury one of the starkest portraits of evil of an accused killer heard in years in a Richland County courtroom.

Bailey not only strangled Almanita Smith at her home where he lived rent-free, he told friends in advance about how he was going to kill her, used her credit and debit cards after he killed her, had sex with other women while her body was upstairs for almost a week and bought powerful air fresheners to hide the odor from the decay, said prosecutor Nicole Simpson.

Bailey strategically placed incense at Smith’s home, Simpson said. “But that wasn’t enough. He needed something stronger. He went and got commercial-grade air fresheners – fresheners whose purpose is to neutralize odors in spaces in the upwards ranges of 6,000 square feet – warehouses.”

Before dumping the body of the 26-year-old young female Army reservist in her front yard near Farrow and Killian roads, “he wrapped her lifeless body in a blanket, stored it upstairs and left it there to rot,” Simpson told the jury of seven women and five men. “People treat their trash and dead animals better.”

But – in an indication of how hard-fought this trial will be – Bailey’s defense attorney told the jury his client was an upstanding ex-soldier who had proudly served his country in Iraq and had a healthy relationship with Smith.

“Marcus Bailey did not kill Almanita Smith,” said attorney Stanley Myers, his hand resting on his client’s shoulder as he faced the jury. Smith was “his roommate, his lover, his financial supporter.”

Bailey was stunned to see Smith’s decomposing body in the middle of the front yard when a passing neighbor saw it in the early morning hours of Aug. 23 last year, Myers said. Awakened by horrified neighbors screaming and yelling at the sight of the body, Bailey hurried outside and went into shock, Myers said.

“He was so surprised to see the state his friend was in that he himself had a panic attack,” Myers said.

Myers told the jury the defense will show Bailey had no motive to kill Smith and that there is doubt even as to whether Smith was in fact murdered.

“There will be no evidence that Almanita Smith was strangled,” Myers said.

No one saw Smith die, and the prosecution is “going on a journey with one eye closed” to convict Bailey, Myers said.

The trial promises to be a tale of domestic violence between two Army veterans – like Bailey, Smith was an Army veteran who had served in Iraq.

A staff sergeant in the Reserves, Smith originally was from Columbus, Ga. She had a degree from Columbia College, hoped to become an officer, was highly thought of by colleagues and had an ongoing romantic relationship with Bailey.

“She could never expect she would ultimately die at Marcus’ hands,” Simpson said. She said she would present a witness who would testify that Bailey talked about strangling Smith well before she died. “He had visions about it, that she had long fingernails so he would have to wear long sleeves,” she said.

The prosecution’s case will rely on numerous witness statements as well as scientific evidence about how long Smith had been dead, Simpson said.

While Smith’s body lay upstairs wrapped in a blanket, Bailey celebrated, taking his friends out on the town, using her credit cards to buy clothes and running up big bar bills, Simpson said.

At one point, he brought a woman he had met to the house and had sex in the living room, Simpson told the jury. “You are going to hear from that girl. She’s going to tell you she noticed the strong scent of air fresheners.”

In a crucial pretrial ruling, Judge Robert Hood overruled defense objections to allow the testimony of Richland County Sheriff’s Department master dog trainer Stephen Pearrow, whose Belgian Malinois, Mia, sniffed traces of a decaying body inside Smith’s house.

Without that testimony, the prosecution would have a more difficult time showing the jury that Smith’s body lay upstairs for almost a week before being deposited in her front yard.

Another Bailey defense attorney, Jake Moore, told Hood he will appeal that issue should he lose. “What you basically have here is a form of hearsay given to us by a dog,” Moore said.

Smith was last seen alive Aug. 16, a Thursday. Her severely decomposed body was discovered a week later at the 613 Heron Glen Drive address.

Several days before her body was found, Smith’s family and friends began calling police, asking them to check on her. When they came by the house, Bailey told different stories about where she was, Simpson said. It was only after repeated visits by friends and police that the body appeared.

If Bailey is convicted of murder, he could receive up to life in prison. Myers told the jury that Bailey may not testify during the trial.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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