Emotional testimony, affair allegations in murder for hire trial
By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector
Monday, February 12, 2018
Jurors heard emotional testimony — including details of an affair and dollar amounts for a murder-for-hire contract — during the first day of a trial to decide the fate of a Pitt County apartment property manager accused of hiring someone to kill his wife in July.
Officers arrested James Edward “Ed” Smith, 35, in July 2017 and charged him with soliciting a “hitman” named Clay Edwards to kill his wife. Smith is a partner and property manager of River Bluff apartments in Greenville.
After brief opening statements, the jury saw a video that showed Smith meeting with Edwards. In the course of the video, the men discussed the proposition of Edwards killing Smith’s wife.
The video was made after Edwards contacted the Greenville Police Department. An undercover operation, during which Edwards wore a microphone, helped police substantiate Edwards’ claim.
Next, jurors heard testimony from several prosecution witnesses, including a Greenville police officer.
Officer Macon Haddock said he received a request to call Edwards on July 23.
“I was working that morning. He called the police department and requested contact from an officer in reference to knowing somebody that planned to kill their spouse,” Haddock said. “After I spoke with him on the phone, we came up with a meeting place.”
Haddock recognized Smith from the River Bluff apartment community, an area known by law enforcement to have a high level of criminal activity. Smith, known to officers as “Mr. Ed,” had helped provide the department with information on several occasions.
Edwards and Haddock met a local supermarket. Edwards told Haddock and another officer that he had been approached by Smith on July 20.
Haddock testified that Edwards told him he met Smith at a gas station then parked his car at a Waffle House. Edwards got into Smith’s truck and they went to Brownlea Drive, where Smith and his wife were staying.
Haddock said the two men discussed details of the murder plot.
“They discussed where he could park at, how he could approach and where the house is,” Haddock said.
Haddock testified that Edwards did not think Smith was serious, and went along with the request as a joke.
“He said he was approached by Mr. Ed and thought it was a joke when he agreed to it,” Haddock said. “When he met with Smith later that day, he realized he was serious and didn’t want to go through with hit.”
Edwards told Haddock that he asked Smith for $100,000 and the plan was to kill Smith’s wife on July 24, about 4:30 a.m., a time she usually left for the gym.
Smith said told Edwards he would provide an untraceable “ghost gun” and it was going be left in a vehicle when he arrived. Edwards was supposed to wait, get the gun, shoot Smith in the temple and leave the gun behind and make it look like a suicide, Haddock said.
Haddock testified that Edwards and Smith also discussed shooting Kelly Smith as she walked out to the car or in the parking lot at the gym.
According to defense attorney Les Robinson, Kelly and Ed Smith, who have been married nine years and who have two daughters, were living with her parents on Brownlea Drive while they waited for the construction of their house in Hugo to be completed.
During her testimony Tuesday, Kelly Smith said prior to her husband’s arrest he had changed from the person he was nine years previously, and everything she thought she knew him became a “waking nightmare.”
“He was like a bull in a china shop,” Kelly Smith said. “Mad about everything we did. Our car was dirty, I didn’t fold something right, it just got worse. I noticed he was sleeping on the opposite side of the bed. The affection had stopped. When I would lean over to kiss him, he would turn his cheek away. He was a little more irritable and distant toward me and the children. We were always in the way and he was always in a hurry.”
Kelly Smith also noticed his changing schedule and heard rumors that her husband was having an affair.
“He was going to the gym earlier and staying longer,” she said.
Kelly Smith said the affair between Ed and a woman named Sara Whitehurst, who worked as a nursery attendant at Champions gym, came to light the week before the 2017 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in June.
“We were sitting at dinner with my parents and the children, and he decided out of the blue he was going to fish the Lady Angler,” she said. The Lady Angler portion of the tournament is a chance for women to fish in the male-dominated event.
He told Kelly that Caroline Davis wanted to go fishing and he wanted to take her and an employee on the boat, Kelly Smith said. Caroline was a good friend of Kelly’s.
“I was upset because we were trying get ready for a week vacation down at the beach and I was still breastfeeding and had another child,” Kelly Smith said. “I've got a whole weekend of vacation to get ready for and two children, how am I gonna pack for everybody and get ready. So, we kind of went back and forth, and I finally said, ‘Just do it.’ The tournament was on a Saturday and he went down Friday.”
While she was shopping that Saturday for groceries, Smith said she received text messages from Caroline Davis.
“She basically started texting me and asking me if I was coming down that night to go to the captain’s party. I told her I couldn’t and we were trying to get ready for the beach and I was down at the grocery store.”
Smith testified she was suspicious after the exchange with Davis and called her husband.
“I questioned Ed if Sara Whitehurst was with him, and he told me basically that Caroline was trying to start something,” Smith said.
“That her dad had a place at the beach and he had a bunch of men in that condo, so he let her spend the night on the boat. That basically we were bringing up stuff that didn't matter. Making a big deal out of nothing,” Smith said.
“He came home Sunday morning, and on the way to the beach, he started crying telling me he couldn’t believe I was gonna leave him,” Smith said.
“Of course, when Ed was arrested, I went through days of thinking, this can't be true. Like any normal person would. We're married, have two children and just had a baby. The love of your life has completely turned his back on you. And everything just changed in one moment,” Smith said.
The trial continues today and is expected to conclude on Thursday.
Contact Tyler Stocks at Tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566