Richland sheriff’s dog handler grilled on witness stand at lawn body murder trial

jmonk@thestate.comJuly 29, 2013 

— A defense attorney in the Richland County murder case of a woman who body was found on a suburban front lawn grilled a sheriff’s dog handler Monday about mistakes he alleged the handler made in his case report.

“Would you explain to the jury why this report contains two factual inaccuracies?” defense attorney Jake Moore asked Richland County sheriff’s master dog trainer Stephen Pearrow in a hushed courtroom Monday at the county courthouse.

“Very simply – mistakes on my part,” answered Pearrow as the jury looked on.

Earlier, in response to questions by prosecutor attorney Kathryn Cavanaugh, Pearrow told the jury his dog, a Belgian Malinois named Mia, sniffed traces of where a decaying human body had been last August inside Smith’s house in five places – three bedrooms, a den and a closet.

But Moore, one of three defense lawyers for Marcus Bailey, brought out Pearrow’s official report on Mia’s sniffing – a report that said the dog had “alerted” to only two places inside the house.

That exchange came on the sixth day of the criminal trial against Bailey, 27, who is accused of murder in the death of Almanita Smith, 26, last August at her Northeast Richland home.

The prosecution is still putting up its case, and there’s no indication of when the trial before Judge Robert Hood will end.

The prosecution contends Bailey, who lived rent-free at Smith’s house, strangled Smith, wrapped her in a blanket and put her body upstairs for a week at her house on Heron Glen Drive while he went partying with her credit and debit cards. Then, sometime just before the morning of Aug. 23, prosecutors say Bailey brought Smith’s badly decomposed body outside and deposited it on the front lawn.

Later Monday, Richland County coroner Gary Watts testified for the prosecution for more than an hour. Watts testified that even though the decomposition of Smith’s body made it hard for medical examiner Dr. Amy Durso to conclude definitively that Smith had died from strangulation, the totality of evidence gathered by investigators caused him – Watts – to rule Smith’s death a deliberate killing.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344

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