Convicted murderer told to “hang your head high”

Fridays are always tough in Orange County's Central Courthouse at Santa Ana. That's when the majority of convicted defendants face sentencing. Of course, watching killers, rapists and robbers begin to pay for their crimes isn't tough. It's seeing the indescribable pain of victims and their families who attend the hearings.

Today, jail deputies brought Marvin V. Smith to court a final time. Last December 17, a jury convicted Smith—a wealthy businessman from Cypress—for brutally killing his wife Minnie, a retired Raytheon Corp. executive, and then staging a robbery in hopes of masking the killers' identity. It didn't help Smith's cause when a week after the crime, Cypress police detective Chris McShane discovered more than $200,000 of Minnie's allegedly stolen jewelry in the trunk of a car Smith kept in Los Angeles. Despite the efforts of veteran defense lawyer Jennifer Keller, Deputy District Attorney Michael F. Murray successfully argued that Smith had probably murdered his wife to get her half of the couples' $5.5 million fortune.

With two deputies at his side, Smith strutted into Superior Court Judge Daniel McNerney's packed courtroom wearing not only handcuffs, a nice sweater and slacks, but also a smile. It's incredibly bad manners for a convicted defendant to smile at his sentencing hearing. Then again, Smith's a 72-year-old cold blooded killer. And there's a history of bad manners here. On the night of Minnie's murder, Smith talked cheerfully to police about his affection for a woman later identified by law enforcement as one of Smith's numerous mistresses.

I've been covering courts off and on for 22 years, and today will be a day I'll always remember. Murray played a two-minute DVD created by Bennie Thomas, Minnie's son from a previous marriage. It contained dozens of family photos of what was obviously a happy, peaceful woman. In the background, a song played with lyrics that included, “Momma, you know I love you.'' There were tears and crying and sniffing in the public seating section. Judge McNerney and his bailiff, both red-faced, looked touched too.

Smith--represented in court by Kay Rackauckas, ex-wife to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas--showed no emotion. He rested his face on his right hand, looked away and closed his eyes. What thoughts go through a man's head when he's been convicted of killing his wife, leaving her bloody, beaten body nude for police to find? Denial? Twisted satisfaction?

Thomas, a 41-year-old Los Angeles County probation officer and former New Mexico State football star, addressed McNerney, confessed that he had had thoughts early in the case of getting revenge against his ex-stepfather, but said he eventually learned to leave fate in God's hands. “My mother was a giving, loving, considerate person,” he said. “Since this, I understand why some people commit suicide. They don't want to feel the pain.”

With his hands tightly gripping the podium and tears pouring down his face, Thomas concluded, “He deserves the death penalty.”

Bridgette Latham told McNerney that her aunt “epitomized beauty, grace, style and class.”

“Nobody could dislike her,” Latham said. “We won't ever hear that soft, delicate voice again. This [murder] is the ultimate deception and betrayal of our family.”

But Dr. Brenda C. Smith--a Pasadena-based physician specializing in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Smith's daughter—wasn't willing to concede that her father is a killer.

“I know that he is a victim,” said Smith. “My father is innocent. If I thought for one nanosecond that my father had anything to do with Minnie's death, I would not be beside him. But I told him to hold his head high today because he hasn't done anything wrong. We know that one day he will be vindicated of this.”

McNerney then sentenced Smith to a prison term of 25 years to life. The defense has 60 days to appeal. A restitution hearing was set for May 2.

Afterwards, a Smith trial juror who'd attended the hearing said she felt “some closure now.”

“It's just awful what happened to Minnie,” she said. “I'm so sorry for what the family has gone through.”

Click here to see "Lady Killer," the Weekly's December 2007 cover story on the trial.

-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly

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