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Husband convicted in murder-for-hire case

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Superior Court Judge J. Carlton Cole speaks with the counsel in Superior Courtroom 1. during the Smith trial Thursday morning.


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 16, 2018

A jury deliberated less than an hour today and convicted a Pitt County man accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife last July.

The jury in the trial of James Edward “Ed” Smith, 36, began deliberation about 11:40 a.m. after summations this morning from prosecutors and Smith’s defense lawyer.

The returned a guilty verdict about 12:15 p.m. Judge Carlton Cole later sentenced Smith to 6-8 years in the N.C. Department of Correction.

The prosecution was aided by several video and audio recordings of Smith’s negotiations. More details will follow.

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A jury heard testimony on an extramarital affair during day three in the trial of a Pitt County man accused of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife last July.

Greenville Police officers arrested James Edward “Ed” Smith, 35, and charged him with felony solicitation to commit first degree murder after receiving information about the murder-for-hire plot. 

Sara Whitehurst took the stand on Thursday, and discussed an extramarital affair that lasted several months between herself and Smith.

Whitehurst, who previously worked at the gym where Smith, his wife and children were members, testified that she and Smith became close last spring.

“We first started talking on Facebook and at the gym the end of April,” Whitehurst said. “We talked every day and I cared about him.”

Whitehurst and Smith also went out for breakfast and lunch several times and drove down to Atlantic Beach a few Fridays each month.

State prosecutor Anthony Futrell asked Whitehurst if she knew that Ed Smith was married and had children.    

“He told me he was married and had two children,” she said. 

In June, Whitehurst was invited by Smith to fish in the Lady’s Angler portion of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, and she said that the two went up on a Friday and stayed with friends on his Jarrett Bay fishing boat. 

She also testified that while the fishing occurred the following day, she spent the day up on  the bridge while Ed drove the boat. 

“I was up there because, honestly, none of the people were very nice to me,” Whitehurst said. 

Whitehurst denied having a relationship with Smith. 

“A relationship to me is going out with the person and hanging out with them every day, going out on dates, I feel like it was more of a fling,” she said. “I’ve been in a relationship before, and I don’t believe what we had was that. 

“We both said that we loved each other, but honestly I think we said it in the heat of the moment,” Whitehurst said. “Once you say it, you can’t take it back. I think my feelings were more like, ‘I care about you.’ I’ve been in love before and that wasn’t it.”

The jury viewed a video showing a July 20 meeting where Whitehurst could be seen embracing Smith. She testified that she and Smith were alone. The two were seen later going upstairs to what Whitehurst said were bedrooms. 

Smith’s attorney, Les Robinson, objected to the footage being shown, but was overruled by Superior Court Judge J. Carlton Cole. 

The state then showed jurors video footage of a July 23 meeting with Smith and Clay Edwards — the purported hitman — where the two are seen making small talk and discussing details of the proposed murder plot.

After the state wrapped up its case, the defense called no witnesses and Smith did not take the stand.  

Robinson made a motion to dismiss charges against Smith, arguing that the state had not provided evidence. That motion was denied and jurors were dismissed early Thursday afternoon. 

Attorneys are expected to make their closing arguments today, starting at 9:30 a.m.