The jurors deliberated for half an hour before reaching their verdict. Smith, 24, was found guilty of committing an intentional murder during a kidnapping in the first degree and committing an intentional murder during a robbery in the first degree.
During his closing argument, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh showed jurors a framed photo of Kevin Thompson and said: “This was the way his momma raised him, the way everybody knew him.” Then he showed photos taken of Thompson’s body after he was stabbed to death.
“This is Kevin Thompson after he spent about six hours with Nick Smith. Think about that as you make your decision,” McVeigh said.
Smith, Tyrone Thompson and Jovon Gaston were charged with kidnapping Kevin Thompson on April 20, 2011, driving him to several ATMs in Jacksonville and Anniston, robbing him at gunpoint of $400 and stabbing him to death. Jurors on Wednesday watched a taped interview of Smith talking to police in which he confessed to cutting the Wellborn Elementary School teacher’s throat.
McVeigh told jurors Smith was “up to his neck in this.”
“He was with them every step of the way. From the time Kevin Thompson is removed from his house to the time Kevin Thompson is kicked down the hill,” he said.
Will Clay, one of Smith’s three defense attorneys, asked the jurors to remember they were judging Smith on a small portion of his life. He also implored the jury to listen to the sentencing phase of the trial with an open mind.
“I wish I could tell you Nick didn’t know anything about this. I wish I could tell you this didn’t happen,” Clay said, “But I can’t, that would be a lie.”
Clay said Smith listened to Tyrone Thompson when Smith was told to cut the third-grade teacher’s throat. Clay said during the next phase of the trial Smith’s lawyers would explain why.
On Monday afternoon, Smith’s defense lawyers were given the opportunity to present witnesses and testimonies to the jury, but declined to do so.
Joseph Colquitt, a Jere L. Beasley Professor of Law at the University of Alabama, told The Star by phone Tuesday afternoon that it’s not a common practice for the defense to decline to present testimony, but it can happen depending on the evidence.
“If I’m sitting from a defense perspective and trying to decide ‘Do we put on evidence or do we not?’ Sometimes it’s unnecessary. Other times it might be hurtful or counterproductive,” Colquitt said.
The professor said those decisions are made by the attorneys or the client.
Colquitt said occasionally defense attorneys decide not to put on evidence, but after looking at the prosecution’s evidence they must reassess and “put on evidence they don’t want to.”
When someone is convicted, Colquitt said, there’s always the possibility a defendant could raise an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. That type of appeal is raised fairly frequently, he said, but not always effective.
“The test is fairly difficult to meet. It’s not just somebody made a choice and you disagree with that choice,” Colquitt said. “It’s that the choice was really outside the mainstream thinking and people were ineffective in representing their client.”
“He had choices”
Lynn Hammond, assistant DA, told the jury that at any time during that night in April 2011, Smith could have opted out.
“Why didn’t he drive to the Anniston Police Department? … Nick Smith could have yelled for help. He had choices. You don’t blame other people for your choices. You can’t blame Tyrone Thompson for your choices,” Hammond said to the jury this morning.
Choking through her sobs after the verdict, Kevin Thompson’s mother said she was unable to comment.
“It’s been emotional for her,” said Michael Cox, Curry’s pastor at Cornerstone Church. “You hope, but there’s always that in the back of your mind that this could go in the other direction.”
Cox said church members have been in the courtroom throughout the trial to support the Curry family.
“She’s a very tough lady. Her and Rena have been great examples for everybody,” Cox said, referring to Curry and her daughter, Rena Curry, Thompson’s sister.
Penny Woodford, a fifth-grade teacher at Wellborn Elementary School, said she still sees the effect Thompson had on his students.
“My prayer was for justice to be done and I think justice was done,” she said.
Jurors will return to Circuit Judge Brian Howell’s courtroom Monday to begin the sentencing phase of the trial. They will decide next week if Smith is given life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.