Jury unable to agree on six assault counts

Published 6:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2007

Former Brookhaven Fire Department Assistant Chief Fred Smith wasfound guilty of shooting into an automobile Wednesday, but the jurycould not reach a verdict on six counts of aggravated assault.

Smith, who took the stand in his own defense, was found guiltyof shooting into a vehicle during a Thanksgiving 2005 domesticdispute and faces a maximum sentence of five years in the custodyof the Mississippi Department of Correction.

He was taken into custody by Lincoln County Sheriff’s Departmentdeputies following the trial and will be sentenced Monday.

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Jurors deliberated for nearly four hours, but were unable todetermine if the four adults and two children were inside thevehicle at the time of the shooting or whether Smith intended toharm them. During the two-day trial, there was conflictingtestimony regarding that point of the incident.

No one was hurt in the incident.

“We came in and presented the case we had,” said DistrictAttorney Dewitt “Dee” Bates. “Right now, we anticipate we willretry Mr. Smith on the six counts of aggravated assault. I’m gladthey did come to a decision on one of the counts.”

The charges stem from an incident at Smith’s home on GreenwoodLane on Thanksgiving 2005.

According to trial testimony and attorneys’ closing statements,Smith and his wife of only a few weeks were home watchingtelevision when his stepdaughter Sheena Tillman, her 4-year-old sonand three of Tillman’s cousins came by the house. One of thecousins brought her 6-year-old child.

Tillman and the other guests entered the home peaceably, but shewas soon embroiled in an argument with her mother about babysittingher child so she could enjoy some “adult time” with her cousins.The argument grew loud and profane and the visitors were asked toleave.

From that point, accounts of what occurred differ.

However, at some point during the altercation that followed, thewindows of Smith’s personal vehicle and the back window of aBrookhaven Fire Department Crown Victoria were smashed.

The act allegedly enraged Smith and prompted him to emerge fromthe house with a gun and fire into the car. Eleven bullet holeswere found in the car by investigators.

In his testimony Wednesday, Smith said the altercation began inthe home when they were asked to leave.

“She tried to fight – took a couple of swings at me,” he said.”Then she slammed the door back and knocked a hole in thewall.”

After escorting them out, he said, he returned inside the homeand “heard the back door trying to be kicked in and some windowpanes trying to be broken out.”

At some point, Smith retrieved an automatic pistol from thebedroom and went outside, firing a shot or two in the air or intothe ground. All the guests except for Tillman were inside thecousin’s car.

When he fired the warning shots, Smith said, the cousins leftthe vehicle and threatened him with physical assault. He then wentback in the home and called the sheriff’s department.

The dispute continued, prompting another call to the sheriff’sdepartment approximately 10 minutes later.

Smith said after the second call he went outside and discoveredthe vehicle’s broken windows.

“When I discovered that the glass had been broken out of myvehicles, I retaliated and shot into their vehicle,” he said. “Noone was in it.”

A neighbor, Maxine Allen, was called later as a rebuttalwitness, however. She said she heard the shooting and went outsideto see Smith shooting into the vehicle.

“The car was parked in his driveway,” she said. “The carproceeded to back up out of his driveway and he was stillshooting.”

When the car reached the road, Allen said, it stopped andTillman got out to continue shouting at Smith, but no more shotswere fired.

Gus Sermos, representing Smith, said in his closing statementsthat Tillman’s actions at that point indicate she was not worriedabout Smith attempting to shoot her or the others.

“If you’re coming back and doing that there’s no great fear,” hesaid. “In fact, if the danger was present those four adult womenshould be charged with child neglect for keeping the children inthat position.”

Sermos did not deny Smith shot into the vehicle, butconcentrated his defense on whether there was intent to harmTillman and the others.

“There’s certainly proof shots were fired. There’s certainlyproof the car had bullet holes in it. But there is no proof thatpeople were in it,” he said. “They did prove he shot into avehicle, but they didn’t prove he attempted to cause serious bodilyinjury to any of them.”