Clay King Smith spent his final days writing letters.
Scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the March 1998 murder of two women and three children, Smith wrote letters to the families of each of his victims asking for forgiveness and telling them that he will waive his right to appeal unless they ask him to do otherwise.
No one did.
Smith, 30, was convicted in March 1999 of five counts of capital murder in the shooting death of his 20-year-old girlfriend, Misty Erwin; Erwin’s cousin, Shelly Sorg, 24; Sorg’s children, Sean Michael, 5, and Taylor, 3; and Samantha Rhodes, 12, a family friend and babysitter.
Before her death, Erwin reported that Smith had battered her and requested police assistance to move out of the mobile home she shared with Smith. However, she withdrew her complaint and decided to stay with Smith. Two days later, five bodies were found in the mobile home. All were shot to death with a rifle.
Smith, then 27, was arrested the day after the bodies were discovered. His capture followed a shootout with authorities in Lincoln County. Smith fled into a wooded area when police tracked him down at a house, a local hunting club. Smith held police at bay for an hour with a rifle, which later proved to be the murder weapon. He was shot in an arm after he refused to put down the rifle. During the stand-off, he yelled at the police, “I sent three of them to heaven; I don’t know where the other two went.” Smith made several admissions during the stand-off, until he was shot in the arm by police. He claimed that the murders were drug-induced.
In a letter dated April 22, 2001, Smith told Misty Erwin’s father, Randy, her mother, Lula, and her three sisters, Tabitha, Margo and Francis, that he is waiving his right to appeal so that they can move on with their lives. “You don’t need to keep reliving what happened over and over and that’s what appeals would do,” Smith wrote. “If you all want me to appeal you should let me know and I will. Otherwise, I’m going home to be with Jesus. I can hardly wait. I believe I am going to see Misty there…”
Although Smith still has the right to appeal and ask Gov. Mike Huckabee for reprieve, Roger Sorg says there would be a riot if Smith’s execution is stayed. “If the governor stops this, it will start a riot,” said Sorg, whose wife and two young children were found shot to death at cousin Misty Erwin’s mobile home in March 1998.
Gathered at the Star City home of Erwin’s parents Thursday evening, family members of four of the five victims told of the heartache Smith caused them. “I still catch myself buying Christmas presents for four instead three,” said Lula Erwin, who lost one of her four daughters, a niece, a great nephew and great-niece. “He has hurt everybody in this room. You don’t want to live and you don’t want to die.”
Between sobs, Misty Erwin’s oldest sister, Tabitha Bunting, read a poem about domestic abuse she said sums up the tragedy. Bunting broke down in uncontrollable sobs throughout the reading of “I Got Flowers Today,” while her husband, Tony, comforted her. “It narrows it down to what really happened,” she said.
Misty Erwin’s family said Smith controlled her.
“She was held hostage in there,” Randy Erwin said, explaining that Smith would not allow Misty to call, write, or visit her family.
“He had no right to hold her hostage,” Bunting added. “He held her in that trailer like an animal in a kennel.”
“And now he’s sending us letters with sermons and asking us to forgive him,” Lula Erwin said. “The nerve of this man, why does he have to torment us?”
Lula Erwin, who said she had nightmares for three weeks after the March 1999 trial, has been hospitalized three or four times since the murders and is still on medication. “They’ve got her on all kinds of medicine,” Randy Erwin explained. “She takes medicine before she goes to bed and medicine when she wakes up.”
Roger Sorg, who married Misty’s sister, Francis, about a year-and-a-half the murders, embraced the couple’s young son as he talked about the wife and two children he lost. “She was an easy-going person with a lot of spunk,” he said, describing Shelly Sorg. “And she loved her children.”
Sorg will witness the execution. He says he doesn’t know if he will be able to forgive Smith until then. “Maybe after he’s gone,” Sorg said. “When we don’t have to worry about him any more.” But Francis Sorg still can’t find it in her heart to forgive Smith for killing her sister, Misty. “No,” Francis Sorg said quietly. “I won’t ever.”
Misty Erwin’s sisters, Margo Erwin and Tabitha Bunting, both pray they will someday be able to forgive Smith, but neither are sure if they can. “I pray I have it in me to forgive him after he’s gone,” Tabitha Bunting said. “I pray for the sake of myself and my soul that I can.”
Misty Erwin’s parents aren’t sure either. When they heard that Smith wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread across Misty’s grave, Randy and Lula Erwin were furious. “I don’t want her near no devil,” Randy Erwin said. “The good Lord might forgive him but He’s got more heart than I’ve got.” However, Randy Erwin, who will also witness the execution, says he may forgive Smith after he is executed.
While they all expressed sympathy for Smith’s family, Tabitha Bunting said it doesn’t seem fair to her that Smith will know the day and hour he will be killed. “He will never know the fear those women and kids had – he shot them like deer.”
Bunting’s husband, Tony, who said very little during the interview, agreed with his wife. “In my opinion they shouldn’t let him know when they are going to do it,” Tony Bunting said. “He should have to live every day feeling the same fear they felt looking down the barrel of that gun.”
Smith declined a request for an interview.