State v. Smith

Decision Date08 February 2001
Docket NumberNo. 99-298-C.A.,99-298-C.A.
Citation766 A.2d 913
PartiesSTATE v. Charles SMITH.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court


Aaron L. Weisman, Providence, for for plaintiff.

Janice M. Weisfeld, Paula Rosin, M. Christine O'Connell, Providence, for defendant.


WEISBERGER, Chief Justice.

This case came before the Court on the appeal of the defendant, Charles Smith (Smith or defendant), from a judgment of conviction entered in the Superior Court in which a jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree, committed by means of torture and aggravated battery. The trial justice denied the defendant's motion for a new trial and sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The defendant was also sentenced to a consecutive term of fifteen years to serve as an habitual offender. This appeal followed. We affirm the judgment of the Superior Court with regard to the defendant's conviction and sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, the ruling of the trial justice with respect to the defendant's habitual criminal status is reversed, the defendant's habitual criminal sentence is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The facts insofar as pertinent to this appeal are as follows.

Facts and Travel

In April 1997, Margaret Rose Benard (Benard) and defendant lived in an apartment at 41 Park Holm in Newport, Rhode Island, with their three-year-old daughter Samantha Smith (Samantha), and with Benard's two daughters from her prior marriage, Kristen and Toni Jorge (Kristen and Toni), sixteen and fourteen years of age, respectively.

On April 13, 1997, Benard and defendant argued. As a result, Benard requested that defendant leave the apartment and give her the keys, which he did. The following morning, April 14, 1997, at approximately 5 a.m., defendant, wearing a blue one-piece jumpsuit, knocked at the kitchen door and asked Benard for money to purchase cigarettes. Benard gave him two dollars. The defendant then left. After escorting Samantha to her mother's home, Benard returned to the apartment, told Kristen to make sure it was locked up when she and Toni left for school, and then proceeded to work her 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift at a nearby Burger King. At approximately 12:55 p.m., Kristen came to the apartment of Karen Lema Carlisle (Carlisle), an apartment adjacent to the Benard-Smith apartment. Kristen told Carlisle that she had skipped school, and asked to come in until such time as she could go home without her truancy being discovered.

At approximately noon, defendant came to the apartment of Leddy Dugan (Leddy), a neighbor of defendant. The defendant then went upstairs to visit with Leddy's brother, Liam Dugan (Liam). At that time, defendant was drinking from a large plastic bottle, three-quarters full, containing half cranberry juice and half vodka. He told Leddy that he had already consumed a forty-ounce bottle of beer. In Liam's bedroom, defendant complained about Benard and Kristen as he drank vodka and smoked marijuana. At approximately 1 p.m., by which time defendant appeared visibly intoxicated, he stated that he needed to change his clothing at his and Benard's apartment and, because he did not have hiskey, he asked Leddy and her younger brother, Connor Carr (Connor), if they would call the police if he climbed in the apartment window. When they assured him that they would not, Leddy and Connor watched defendant climb in the kitchen window of his and Benard's apartment. The defendant returned to Leddy's apartment at approximately 1:30 p.m. and spoke briefly with Leddy. He then left. Approximately fifteen minutes later, defendant entered his and Benard's apartment for the second time.

At approximately 1:45 p.m., Kristen left Carlisle's home to return to her own apartment. A few minutes later, Carol Manchester, another neighbor of defendant, saw defendant running out of the driveway of his apartment with a cloth over his right hand. At approximately 2:20 p.m., Benard returned home from work after having picked up Samantha from her mother's home. Upon arriving home, she noticed that a broom was out of place and became concerned that the apartment had been broken into. As Benard began to investigate, she received two telephone calls from defendant, asking her to pick him up at a friend's house. Benard indicated that she would do so, as soon as Toni came home to watch over Samantha. She then continued to check the apartment for signs of an intruder. In the bedroom shared by Kristen and Toni, Benard found blood on a wall and on Kristen's bed. She then discovered Kristen wrapped in a comforter on the floor between the bed and the wall. Benard began screaming and, after hanging up on defendant who was still on the line, she dialed 911 for emergency assistance.

Rescue Lieutenant Robert Sullivan (Rescue Lieutenant Sullivan) of the Newport Fire Department responded to the emergency call. When he arrived at the apartment, he was shown a young female, lying prone, half-concealed under a bed and blankets, surrounded by a large amount of blood. The female, who was later identified as Kristen, was fully clothed except for shoes and socks. She had multiple lacerations to the neck, shoulder, back, and hand. Kristen had no pulse and was notbreathing. Rescue Lieutenant Sullivan and his colleagues transported her via ambulance to Newport Hospital. Doctor Richard Altreuter (Dr. Altreuter) attempted to resuscitate Kristen when she arrived at Newport Hospital. He found no pulse and no independent respiration. Doctor Altreuter pronounced Kristen dead at 3:11 p.m.

On April 15, 1997, at approximately 10 a.m., Newport Police Officer Kevin Parsonage arrested defendant as he left the apartment of his sister, Chris Sherman (sister or Sherman). During booking at the police station, Newport Patrolman Richard Gallipeau (Patrolman Gallipeau) seized defendant's clothing and gave defendant a durable paper suit to wear. Detective Gene Bucci (Det. Bucci) interrogated defendant after he had been booked and advised of his Miranda rights. After making two telephone calls, defendant agreed to speak with Det. Bucci and gave an oral statement in which he admitted stabbing Kristen and having intercourse with her after she was dead. He told police that after he had entered Benard's apartment through the window, he "took possession of a knife" from the knife holder on the kitchen counter. When Kristen entered the apartment, he hid from her in her room under the bed. Then, after Kristen had left the apartment to take the dog out, defendant tried to leave the apartment but was surprised by Kristen, who had returned through the living room door "and told him that he had no right to be there and that she was going to call the police." He then grabbed her and "dragged her [from the living room] to her [bed]room [where he] immediately began cutting and stabbing her" with the knife he had secured when he had first entered through the kitchen window. The defendant told Det. Bucci that "he stabbed [Kristen] approximately fifteen times" and, after he thought she was dead, "had sex with her." The defendant also stated that he had buried the knife in a trash barrel and disposed of the jacket he had used to hide the knife in the barrel as well. Before reducing the oral statement to writing, defendant was taken back to Park Holm, wearing the paper suit and shoes,where he pointed out to police the knife and the jacket, which were still in the trash barrel. These items were seized by Patrolman Gallipeau and Det. Bucci.

The defendant was then returned to the station, where a tape recorded statement was taken. The tape recording was then transcribed into a written document, which defendant thereafter signed. The statements related that defendant had gone into the apartment at 41 Park Holm to change his clothing, and while there was surprised by Kristen. The defendant related that he hid from her and then tried to escape the premises while she was out walking the dog. However, Kristen had returned and confronted him before he could get away and had threatened to call the police. At that point, the statement relates, defendant "just bugged out. * * * [J]ust went crazy," and took her to the bedroom and stabbed her with a kitchen knife. The statement also related that defendant "raped her." To accomplish the rape, defendant pulled down her pants and underwear and then "stimulate[d him]self to get an erection" prior to raping her. After raping Kristen, but before fleeing the apartment, defendant wrapped her up in a blanket and pushed her over the side of the bed, and then moved the bed on top of her, all in an attempt to conceal his crimes. The defendant's written statement also revealed that he had no relationship with Kristen, that he did not get along with her, and that he did not like her because she used to tell Benard whenever he would "smok[e] weed, drink[] beers[,]" or ask another woman out. When specifically asked why he had stabbed Kristen, defendant replied, "I don't know. She was gonna call the police." The defendant said that enraged him "[c]ause I know I would go to jail."

On September 8, 1997, the state charged defendant, by indictment, with one count of murder and with two counts of first-degree sexual assault upon Kristen. Notice of the state's intent to seek a sentence of life without parole, as well as an habitual offender sentence, was timely filed. A jury trial was held, beginning on January 26 and ending on February 13, 1998.

Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Michael Sikirica, M.D. (Dr. Sikirica), who had performed an autopsy on Kristen the day after the murder, testified at trial. He described the injuries on her body, which included two small puncture wounds in the neck region, eleven stab wounds to the neck and shoulder, twenty incise wounds to the...

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