Easley sentenced to life in prison with no parole for Tina Smith’s murder
GLENVAR – Tina Smith can rest in peace now. The man who stole her heart – and then her life – will be in prison for the rest of his years.
More than a year and two months after the 41-year-old Glenvar mother was found murdered in the house she shared with boyfriend Jeffrey Easley and her preteen daughter, Easley pleaded “no contest” to killing her, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Easley appeared unexpectedly in Roanoke County Circuit Court Feb. 28, four days before his 34th birthday. He had been scheduled for a jury trial estimated to last up to 10 days, starting March 21.
As part of Easley’s plea agreement to the capital murder charge, another charge of abduction with intent to defile – or have sexual relations with – Smith’s then-12-year-old daughter, Brittany Smith, was not prosecuted.
Under Virginia law, because Easley was charged with that separate felony in connection with the murder, he could have been executed on Virginia’s death row.
The first time authorities released information on how Tina Smith died was in court Tuesday. According to the medical examiner’s office, Smith died of blunt force trauma to the head, strangulation, and suffocation.
Roanoke County Detectives who first saw Tina Smith’s body after co-workers had called police said Smith had a cord around her neck and a rag in her mouth.
Brittany Smith was downstairs in the home when her mother was murdered, Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Leach said.
Although Easley’s court-appointed attorneys Tom Roe of Botetourt County and Mark Claytor of Salem suggested in the courtroom this week Brittany was more involved in the killing than the prosecution indicated, detectives said they found no evidence to indicate she took part in her mother’s murder.
There was speculation in the community when the Glenvar Middle School seventh-grader went missing that she had a romantic relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, and had gone willingly with Easley. Under Virginia law, a child her age cannot give consent to sexual relations.
Easley was charged with abduction – also known as kidnapping – because he was not a custodial parent, and Brittany’s father Benny Smith, who is a police officer in South Boston, testified at earlier court proceedings he had not given permission for her to go away with Easley.
Prosecutors created a timeline to show how events happened Dec. 3, the night Tina Smith apparently died and the last time Easley and Brittany were seen in the Salem area.
According to prosecutors, Tina Smith sent a text message to Easley that morning, telling him, “We need to talk right now.” Leach said Smith was suspicious her boyfriend was developing a sexual relationship with her daughter.
Smith had met Easley online during the summer and in October, invited him to move into her and Brittany’s home on Fort Lewis Circle behind Fort Lewis Elementary School.
Leach said Brittany told him she heard her mother screaming for help and saw blood on her mother’s head when she went to the bedroom before Easley told her to leave, prosecutors said.
Detectives said they later found two baseball bats and a knife underneath the cover of a swimming pool.
Some of Tina Smith’s friends were concerned about her relationship with Easley. She was grieving for the death of her 16-year-old son, Tyler, who died of accidental suffocation the summer before.
One of her last postings on her Facebook page, which was quoted on the program for her memorial service at Richfield, said: “If I should die before I wake, God bless my friends and may I be remembered for my good heart and hopeless romantic ways.”
Videotape from a surveillance camera at the Salem Walmart released during the nationwide search for the two shows Easley and Brittany about 8 p.m. the night of the murder, leaving the store with a cart piled high with camping equipment, gallons of milk and other supplies.
The girl, Easley and Smith’s car were missing when police went to the house the Monday after that, after co-workers from Richfield Retirement and Care Center where she was a registered nurse became alarmed when she did not show up for work two days in a row.
Smith’s missing car was found in San Francisco near a park where Easley and Brittany apparently had been staying.
San Francisco police officers located them on Dec. 10. Two Roanoke County detectives brought Brittany back to Roanoke and to her waiting father, Benny Smith, three days later, the same night co-workers at Richfield packed a chapel service to remember Tina Smith.
Easley has been in Western Virginia Regional Jail since shortly after two other Roanoke County detectives brought him back to Roanoke County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for arraignment on Dec. 17, 2010.
Brittany lives in South Boston and shares time with her father and stepmother, Dana, and her mother’s sisters who live in the area. Tina Smith and Benny Smith had been divorced for several years. She had lived in Glenvar for four years.
Roanoke County Police Acting Assistant Chief Chuck Mason, who was in the courtroom Feb. 28, said he and the department are satisfied with the outcome, and that it is the best possible for everyone involved. “Easley is the person responsible for this crime and will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
See a related article in this week’s March 1 issue of the Salem Times-Register about happier times for Benny Smith, who married his high school sweetheart this Valentine’s Day.