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Forsyth County Arson-Murder Trial Underway

A jury has been selected and opening statements were heard Wednesday during the first day of the Jill Smith and Peter Delaney arson-felony murder trial.

The Forsyth County arson-felony murder trial of Jill Smith, 35, and Peter Delaney, 38, that was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 23, got underway Wednesday afternoon following two and a half days of jury selection.

Smith and Delaney are accused of setting a house fire that killed Smith’s husband. They are charged with felony murder and first-degree arson.

The charges stem from a Oct. 22, 2010 blaze that started in the master bedroom of the Smith home on Kennemore Drive in the Shepherd's Pond subdivision. The medical examiner confirmed Michael Smith died due to a combination of smoke inhalation and thermal burns. Mrs. Smith was 34 at the time and Mr. Delaney was 37.

The 15 jurors (six women and nine men) heard opening statements by prosecutors and defense attorneys in a half-filled courtroom in front of Superior Court Judge David Dickinson.

James Dunn of the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office began by reciting a text that Smith allegedly sent Delaney on the night of the fire.

"Buy three bottles of wine so he will pass the [expletive] out."

The state proceeded to paint a picture of infidelity, deception and greed of Smith and Delaney. It was revealed last year during Delaney's first hearing in Magistrate Court that the two were involved in an affair since December 2009.

The state also mentioned that Smith and Delaney had reason to kill Michael Smith due to his lucrative life insurance policy, of which Jill Smith is the sole beneficiary. But while defense attorneys admitted the couple was engaged in an affair they maintain there is no evidence that proves either one of them set the fire that killed Michael Smith.

Testimony was also heard in that first hearing on Jan. 19, 2011, that during the investigation, lab results confirmed there was presence of gasoline in several areas of the master bedroom. But since that time additional lab results of an independent test revealed no excellerant [gasoline] was found.

After opening statements were heard the state called its first three witnesses, Jeremy Dennis, Patrick Anderson and Amanda Parker.

Dennis and Anderson, who are employed with the Forsyth County Fire Department, were the first responders to arrive at the Smith home the night of the fire.

The two experienced firefighters were met with "heavy smoke and fire" as they made their way into the master bedroom.

Dennis testified that he was the first to find Smith's body that appeared to be in a tornado drill position in the master bathroom.

"That's where you are taught to get on your knees, crouched down, bent over," he said.

Dennis told the court that he crawled over to Smith's body, rolled him over and prepared to "drag him out" of the bathroom with Anderson's help.

Dennis said that he and Anderson worked as a team to get Smith's body out.

After they turned the body over to another team of firefighters Dennis and Anderson assisted Investigator Debbie Lindstrom, also of the FCFD, with removing debris from the bedroom so Lindstrom would be able to gather up samples of the charred room.

But the most chilling moment of Wednesday's proceedings came when District Attorney Penny Penn played the 911 call that Jill Smith made when the fire broke out.

While the CD played Smith dabbed her nose with a tissue and appeared to be emotional while listening to the conversation she had with Amanda Parker, the 911 communication officer who took the call that night.

Following the end of the first day of the trial, defense attorneys told Cumming Patch that they have not decided on whether or not they would call their clients to testify.

The trial is expected to last for two weeks.

Editor's Note: The audio of the 911 call is difficult to understand as our recording is a recording of the CD that was played in court. The call may not be suitable for all ages as it contains strong language.

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