Columbia man gets 50 years for killing girlfriend

jmonk@thestate.comJuly 31, 2013 

— A Richland County jury of seven women and five men deliberated for three hours Wednesday afternoon before finding Marcus Bailey guilty of murder in the death of Almanita Smith.

Bailey, 27, an Army two-tour, Iraqi-combat vet who was demoted in rank and forced out of the Army for erratic behavior, had been living with Smith, 26, in her northeast Richland County house when her decomposed body was found outside on the front lawn in August 2012.

Bailey was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison by Judge Robert Hood. Bailey did not take the witness stand during the eight-day trial. In fact, the defense put up no witnesses.

The prosecution, led by Luck Campbell and Nicole Simpson, put up 37 witnesses whose “overwhelming evidence” – Campbell’s words during her final argument to the jury Wednesday at noon – convinced the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.

During the trial, Bailey’s two primary defense lawyers, Jake Moore and Stanley Myers, used their opening statements to plant alternate versions of reality before the jury, as well as cross-examination questions to prosecution witnesses, to point out possible flaws in the prosecution’s case.

Myers, for example, asked one witness if it wasn’t possible that someone had thrown Smith’s body from the road onto the front lawn. Moore focused on a pathologist’s inability to say with 100 percent medical certainty that Smith died from strangulation – the prosecution’s theory.

But prosecutors Campbell, Simpson and Kathryn Cavanaugh presented witness after witness to weave a complex case of circumstantial and physical evidence the jury wound up believing.

It included what Campbell called Bailey’s lies to the Richland County sheriff’s department detectives that he had seen Smith alive only the day before her body was found – an impossible assertion since her body was so badly decomposed she could not have been alive the day before. Moreover, Bailey had used her credit cards and saturated the house with air fresheners to cover up the odor from her decomposing body, prosecutors alleged.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts testified that, despite advanced decomposition, the totality of evidence left no doubt that Smith was deliberately killed.

The body was found last August in the front yard of Smith’s house at 413 Heron Glen Drive, a subdivision in northeast Richland, about five miles north of Fort Jackson.

Smith was by all accounts a model person widely liked by friends, family and co-workers. Those relations proved to be crucial in cracking the case. The only reason the body appeared on the front lawn last Aug. 23 just after dawn was that Bailey learned that a serious search of the house – where Smith’s body was stored wrapped in a blanket – might likely take place later that day.

Campbell told the jury that Smith had not made many mistakes in her young life.

But, meeting Bailey – “her one mistake – cost her her life,” Campbell said.

“A verdict like this sends a clear message,” 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson said in a statement. “These types of brutal and heinous acts will not be tolerated in our community.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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