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Opening arguments begin in murder for hire trial




By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Opening arguments are expected to begin this morning in the trial of a Pitt County man accused of soliciting an acquaintance to kill his wife.

Greenville Police officers arrested James Edward Smith, 35, on July 23, approximately 12 hours after an acquaintance called police about the plot. The man told police that he and Smith knew each other through mutual acquaintances, and Smith tried to hire him. Police have not revealed details of the plot.

An undercover operation, including a microphone worn by the acquaintance and other evidence, helped substantiate the charge and lead investigators to Smith, who was arrested.

He was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder, according to an arrest warrant, which also identified the acquaintance and Smith’s wife. The police department has not released the woman’s name citing department protocol against releasing the names of victims of domestic violence.

However, the department said investigators still are working to determine a motive in the case.

“We have not had any previous issues with (Smith) in regard to domestic violence,” spokeswoman Kristen Hunter said.

On Monday, a jury was seated and final motions were heard by Superior Court Judge, J. Carlton Cole. 

Motions made by Les Robinson, Smith’s defense attorney included prohibiting witnesses on either side from communicating with each other until they are called on to testify.   

“There are a number of witnesses that have been identified by both sides to the jury. There are handwritten notes, there are typewritten notes, there are multiple videos from various events that depict things,” Robinson said. “I am asking the court to enter an order excluding all witnesses for either side from the court room until such time they are called to testify and also include in that order not only to not communicate with each other but to not use any type of cellular device or smartphone.”

Cole approved that motion.  

Another motion made by Robinson was to exclude evidence of a large hole found on a farm next to Smith’s property.

“On some adjacent land, there was a hole found and it was dug fairly deep. As best as I can tell, there's no evidence that's been disclosed to us that connects Mr. Smith to that hole other than the fact that someone told him about this hole on his farm,” Robinson said.  “I am moving to exclude that evidence as I don't think it has any type of relevancy.It looks like two people were involved in digging the hole. There's no evidence that Ed Smith had anything to do with it but did know about a hole on some adjacent farm land.”

Prosecutor Anthony Futrell told Cole that the state intends to offer the hole found on the farm as evidence.  

“We are intending to offer evidence of that and the reason being is that the hole located half a mile from their house into a field dug down. It wasn't just a normal hole. It was dug through concrete and dug in a way that you would bury something.”

Another motion made by Robinson was to exclude testimony about Smith’s relationship with another woman.  Futrell countered by saying that the defendant was in another relationship when he tried to have his wife killed.  

Cole decided to reserve a ruling on both matters until a later phase of the trial. 

The trial is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. and continue through Thursday.