The facts of the Clay King Smith case as outlined in an automatic review by the Arkansas Supreme Court of entire capital-murder and death-sentence record. The Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion was issued on February 1, 2001.
At the beginning of 1998, Clay King Smith and Misty Erwin were living together at 3105 Pinto Road in Pine Bluff. On or about March 25, 1998, Misty Erwin, Shelly Sorg, Taylor Sorg, Sean Sorg, and Samantha Rhodes were murdered at that address.
Misty Erwin, 20, died from either two or three separate gunshot wounds; Shelly Sorg, 24, died from four separate gunshot wounds; Taylor Sorg, 3, died from a single gunshot wound; Sean Sorg,5, died from two gunshot wounds; and Samantha Rhodes, 12, died from three separate gunshot wounds.
Two days before the murders, Cpl. Calvin Terry of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office had been dispatched to the parking lot of a store to meet Erwin, who had reported being battered by her 27-year-old boyfriend, Clay King Smith. Erwin asked the officer to accompany her while she picked up her belongings.
When they arrived at the mobile home on Pinto Road, Smith was there. Smith and Erwin started talking to each other, and Erwin decided she would stay at the residence and not go to a women’s shelter. She also decided not to press charges against Smith and signed a written statement to that effect. Cpl.Terry testified at Smith’s subsequent capital murder trial that Smith and Erwin were “getting along together fine” when he left the residence.
Andy Hoots, a patrol officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, was dispatched on March 25, 1998 at 8 p.m. to a grocery store parking lot regarding a missing person’s report. Once there, he met Misty Erwin’s mother, Lula Erwin, who reported her daughter missing. Bobbie Erwin, Shelly Sorg’s mother, was also at the grocery store and reported her daughter and Shelly’s two children, Sean and Taylor, missing.
So that he could make a complete report, Officer Hoots went to Pinto Road to find the street number of the residence that Lula Erwin and Bobbie Erwin described. He was also looking for Misty Erwin’s missing vehicle. While driving along Pinto Road, Hoots was flagged down by James Rhodes, the father of Samantha Rhodes. Rhodes showed Officer Hoots the mobile home where Smith and Misty Erwin lived. Hoots approached the residence and knocked on the doors, but received no response. He then looked around the residence, but was unable to see inside. While doing so, Shelly Sorg’s parents arrived at the residence and identified their daughter’s vehicle parked at the residence.
Officer Hoots then left the residence to meet with his superior and fill him in on the situation. As he was doing so, he received another call instructing him to return to 3105 Pinto Road. Upon arrival, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Hoots was met by the owner of the residence, Mark Lackey. Lackey used his key to open the door to the residence. When Lackey opened the door, Hoots shined his flashlight inside the mobile home and saw blood stains on the carpet. He then leaned inside the doorway and saw blood splatters on the side of a washing machine or dryer. As he leaned inside the doorway and looked toward the back bedroom of the residence, Hoots saw the body of a deceased female stretched across a bed. He then backed out of the doorway, shut the door, and called his superior to report what he had found. Soon thereafter, several police officers and investigators arrived.
Stephen Moreau, one of the investigators who arrived at the scene, testified that he arrived at the mobile home on Pinto Road shortly after 11 p.m. He and Investigator Frank J. Moser, III, went inside the residence to check for victims needing medical attention and for possible suspects.
Upon entering the back door, they found blood on the floor just inside the door. In the west bedroom, they found a female and a small child lying on the bed, both deceased. They were identified as 12-year-old Samantha Rhodes and 5-year-old Sean Sorg.
In the living room, Moreau saw a foot protruding from underneath a blanket covering a couch. When he looked under the blanket, he found the body of 24-year-old Shelly Sorg. The investigators also saw the figure of a body sitting upright in a recliner and covered with a blanket. Moreau lifted a section of that blanket and saw 20-year-old Misty Erwin.
After finishing their search of the house for other victims or suspects, the investigators left the residence and got a search warrant.
While Moreau and Moser were in the process of preparing a search warrant, the deputy coroner arrived at the residence. Moser, Investigator Eugene Butler, and the deputy coroner went back inside the residence so the deputy coroner could pronounce death and fix the time of death. The deputy coroner noted the temperature in the residence and checked the bodies of each of the victims in the bedroom and the living room. It was at this point that the body of another small child was discovered under the blanket covering the couch.
The deputy coroner actually pronounced death at 11:41 p.m., but estimated that the victims had been dead for twenty-four to thirty-six hours.
After obtaining a search warrant, the investigators reentered the house to videotape the crime scene, take photographs, and collect evidence. They discovered great amounts of blood around the bodies and throughout the residence. They also found twelve spent .22 caliber shell casings and two bullet fragments in the areas where the victims’ bodies were found.
Smith eventually became a suspect in the murders. In addition to the March 23 report of a domestic dispute between Smith and Erwin and evidence discovered at the crime scene, police officers interviewed bystanders and neighborhood residents.
Sandra Haynes, who lived about 300 feet away from Smith and Erwin’s mobile home, testified that she looked out of her kitchen window at around 12:05 a.m. on March 25, 1998 and saw Smith leaving the residence.
According to Haynes, Smith stopped and looked at her for about 10 seconds before getting into his car and driving away.
Another witness, Becky Irons, told the police that she had heard Smith threaten to kill Misty Erwin and her family if Misty left him. Irons also reported that she had seen a rifle on the couch in Misty Erwin’s residence when the threat occurred.
On March 26, 1998, the day after the bodies were discovered, the prosecuting attorney filed a felony information and an arrest warrant issued.
Soon after leaving the Pinto Road residence, the investigating officers in Jefferson County received information that Smith was at a hunting club near Star City in Lincoln County. The officers went to Star City and met with officers from the Arkansas State Police and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to discuss their plans for arresting Smith. The officers then went to the hunting club. When they arrived, Smith fled on foot through a wooded area, and the officers pursued him.
Smith, who was carrying a rifle, ran about 300 yards before slowing to a walk. He then stopped walking and turned to confront the officers. At that point he was approximately 15 yards away from an officer. For the next 55 minutes, Smith engaged in conversation with the officers but refused to drop his weapon. During the standoff, he made several incriminating statements. The confrontation ended when a state trooper shot Smith in the arm, and the
officers took Smith into custody. Incriminating statements Smith made during the 55-minute standoff:
I sent three of them to heaven. I don’t know where the hell the other two went.”
“I was high on drugs. I was high.”
“I wish I could take a few days back. I shot them. What can I do now?”
Smith’s capital murder trial began on March 17, 1999. During the guilt phase of the trial, the State introduced the testimony of eight witnesses, including the police officer who responded to Misty Erwin’s domestic dispute allegation against Smith two days before her murder, the neighbor who reportedly saw Smith leave the murder scene at about the same time as the time of death estimated by the deputy coroner, the police officer who investigated the missing person reports and found the bodies, the police officers who investigated the crime and arrested Smith, the medical examiner, and the firearms expert who concluded that bullet fragments recovered from the bodies of Samantha Rhodes, Shelly Sorg, and Misty Erwin, as well as 12 spent .22 caliber shell casings and two bullet fragments found at the crime scene were all fired from the .22 caliber rifle taken from Smith following his confrontation with the officers.
Several of the witnesses were cross-examined by Smith’s defense counsel.
Following the judge’ denial of defense counsel’s motion for a directed verdict at the close of the State’s case, Smith offered no witnesses, but did introduce several exhibits. At the close of all the evidence, defense counsel again renewed all motions previously made, and the trial court reaffirmed its previous rulings. The prosecuting attorney and defense counsel presented closing remarks, and, after receiving the court’s instructions, the jury deliberated and found Smith guilty of five counts of capital murder.
In the penalty phase of the trial, Smith instructed his attorneys not to put on any evidence of mitigating factors; nor did he want them to cross-examine any of the State’s witnesses or make closing remarks to the jury.
Before allowing defense counsel to follow Smith’s instructions, the judge held a hearing and thoroughly questioned Smith regarding his decision. The judge determined that Smith voluntarily and intelligently waived his right to counsel and ordered Smith’s attorneys to respect Smith’s wishes. The State offered the victim-impact testimony of Misty Erwin’s sister, Samantha Rhodes’ mother, and Linda Sue Clay, who was the mother-in-law of Shelly Sorg and the grandmother of Sean and Taylor Sorg.
Smith then made a statement to the jury before the trial court read the penalty-phase instructions to the jury and the prosecuting attorney made the State’s final closing argument. The jury again deliberated and recommended a sentence of death on all five counts of capital murder.