Attorney: State lacks evidence against Smart
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
An attorney for a capital murder suspect in the alleged contract slaying of a Hartselle man July 24 said there is no physical evidence linking his client to the crime.
After an hour–long preliminary hearing Tuesday in District Judge Shelly Waters’ courtroom, defense attorney Tom DiGiulian said he is confident Lajuhn Keith Smart Jr., 24, of Huntsville, will be found innocent of a capital murder charge in the death of Anthony Larry Sheppard, 41, of 450 Dawson St. in Hartselle.
Five people have been charged in the fatal shooting. Authorities say Smart acted as the getaway driver in the killing.
“There’s no hard evidence that ties him to this case,” said DiGiulian. “They have statements about our client from witnesses who are just not very credible. He’s innocent, and we’re confident he’ll come out of this looking pretty good.”
Jim Mason and DiGiulian represented Smart at the preliminary hearing.
Waters said she heard enough evidence at the hearing to send the case to a grand jury.
In an affidavit, authorities described their interview with Jacyln Elaine Skuce, 38, of Madison, who is the mother of a child she had with Sheppard. Police allege Skuce hired Logan Delp, 36, of Madison to kill Sheppard. She allegedly made three payments totaling $30,000 in exchange for Sheppard’s death.
Skuce is charged with soliciting individuals to commit capital murder. Angela Stolz, 33, of Huntsville; Aaron Carter Howard, 39, of Toney; and Delp also are facing capital murder charges.
At a Sept. 22 hearing, Waters found probable cause to believe Stolz, Howard and Skuce committed the crimes and bound them over to a grand jury.
Hartselle police investigator Tania Burgess testified Tuesday that witnesses heard Smart, also known as KJ, tell them he was the getaway driver after Delp shot Sheppard at the door of his Hartselle home about 7:24 a.m. Sheppard was preparing to leave for a child custody hearing in Limestone County.
Burgess said a witness told authorities, “KJ was acting super weird. He said he was a getaway driver. KJ said that Delp shot overkill, shot too many times. ‘I can’t believe I did this.’”
Burgess testified the witness said the statements were made in the Budgetel motel just off University Drive in Huntsville. Burgess said the witness told police Smart stole the gun used in the killing, a black 9mm with an extended clip, from Delp and traded it to the motel’s maintenance man for drugs.
Burgess said authorities are still searching for the weapon, and the maintenance employee has refused to give a statement.
The witness said Delp and Smart were texting on a burner phone to “do the job,” according to Burgess. A burner phone usually doesn’t carry a contract to make it more difficult to track and is usually used for a short time before being discarded.
Burgess testified two video surveillance cameras pointed toward Sheppard’s front door showed the vehicle the defendants allegedly arrived in parked to the east of the driveway and facing west.
She said 12 spent shell casings were found at Sheppard’s house, and the victim had been struck by five bullets “at close range.”
She said Smart’s name initially came up Aug. 22 from a witness who said she had a “dope relationship” with Delp. The witness said Delp and Smart talked in a Huntsville motel room about “a life-changing amount of money” to be paid for doing a killing, according to Burgess.
DA: Solid case
Aug. 31, investigators questioned Smart, who was in the Madison County Jail on unrelated charges. He was released Sept. 2 and arrested on the capital murder charge. He remains in the Morgan County Jail.
Burgess also characterized Delp as the shooter, Howard as the lookout, Skuce as the instigator and Stolz being in the backseat of the vehicle “providing support.”
Howard, Skuce and Stolz are in the Morgan County Jail without bail. Delp remains in Madison County Jail on unrelated drug and weapon charges and will be arrested once released, Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson said.
He said the state has a solid case against Smart and other defendants.
“I liked how it was investigated by the Hartselle Police Department and the team (of agencies) and what they did to resolve it,” Anderson said. Other agencies assisting in the investigation are Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, Decatur police and the FBI.
DiGiulian said he expects it to be “several years” before the case will go to trial. Anderson said it could be quicker.
“If we have this to trial in two years, I’ll be happy,” Anderson said.