Charges of abducting 12-year-old certified to grand jury
SALEM – Although she was present in a nearby witness room, 12-year-old Brittany Smith did not testify at a preliminary hearing in court this week when charges were certified against the man accused of abducting her and taking her to California.
Her father, South Boston police officer Ben Smith, did take the witness stand and emphatically denied accused abductor Jeffrey Easley, had any form of custody for the Glenvar Middle School student. A Roanoke County Grand Jury will decide on April 1 if there is sufficient evidence for the case against Easley to be tried in circuit court.
Meanwhile, he remains confined in the Western Virginia Regional Jail near Dixie Caverns, despite his attorney’s attempts to get Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Philip Trompeter to set bond to allow Easley to be released and to be electronically monitored from home.
Testimony by Roanoke County Police Officer J.D. Clark, lead crime scene investigator, revealed 41-year-old Tina Smith was found murdered and bound with cords in an upstairs bedroom at her home on Fort Lewis Circle on Dec. 6.
Her hands were swollen and there were red stains on her face, Clark said. Her daughter and 32-year-old Easley, Smith’s boyfriend, were missing from the house as was her Dodge Neon.
Following a nationwide Amber Alert, Brittany and Easley were found Dec. 10 camping in downtown San Francisco, Calif., and panhandling at a Safeway grocery store. The missing car was recovered in San Bruno near the airport, police said.
Until now, Roanoke County Police had not released any information on where in the house Tina Smith was found, and still have not said how she was killed. After the hearing was over, Commonwealth Attorney Randy Leach said he and police are still waiting for DNA and other evidence results from the medical examiner’s office.
No one has been charged with Tina Smith’s murder.
During cross examination, Easley’s court-appointed attorney Thomas W. Roe Jr. asked Ben Smith if he was on administrative leave from the South Boston Police Department when Tina Smith was last seen alive, Dec. 3. He also asked if there had been a protective order in place prohibiting her father from having contact with Brittany. Ben Smith answered yes to both, but said the protective order had been lifted by that time.
When Roe asked if Brittany “is not living with you at this time,” Leach objected to the question and the judge upheld the objection.
According to Tina Smith’s sister, Tracey White, who was in the courtroom Tuesday, Brittany lives with her father, and the girl stayed with White’s family Monday night while her father worked overnight at his job with the police department.
Ben Smith testified that he had joint custody of Brittany with her mother before Tina Smith’s death. Although there had been a court order prohibiting him from having any contact with Brittany, that has been lifted before Tina Smith’s murder, Ben Smith said during cross examination Tuesday.
When Roanoke County detectives accompanied Brittany back from California on Dec. 13, the same night as co-workers at Richfield Retirement Community held a memorial service for her mother, police turned the girl over to her father, Roanoke County Police said, who returned to South Boston with her.
Dressed in orange jail coveralls, Easley appeared even younger and thinner than on Dec. 17 in J & D Court when he was advised of his rights after two other Roanoke County detectives escorted him back from California.
Easley’s mother, Sallie Martin of Franklin County, walked out of court midway Tuesday after a bailiff admonished her twice about talking, which is not permitted during court. Inside the courtroom, people could hear her becoming hysterical in the lobby, asking deputies, “Why are you doing this to me?” She did not return to the courtroom during the remainder of the 25-minute preliminary hearing.
Although she was not in the courtroom, Brittany Smith’s attorney, Glen Berger of Altavista, was. Also present Feb. 8 was a private investigator working with Roe, Reed Kelly, formerly with the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office.