Murder suspect’s attorneys want to travel to California to boost his defense
SALEM – Appointed attorneys for Jeff Easley, who is accused of killing Fort Lewis-area mother Tina Smith and absconding with her 12-year-old daughter to San Francisco almost a year ago, asked a Roanoke County judge today to approve a four-day trip to California.
They are hoping to interview potential witnesses while there, review statements and evidence, attorneys Mark Claytor of Salem and Tom Roe of Botetourt County told the judge. The trip would be paid for with taxpayer dollars since the court appointed defense attorneys for Easley, who could face the death penalty if found guilty.
Claytor and Roe estimated the trip would cost less than $1,000.
When co-workers found Smith’s body on that Monday in December after she had not shown up at Richfield’s Recovery and Care Center for two days where she was a registered nurse, police discovered her daughter, Brittany, was missing.
Police issued a nationwide Amber Alert. A California mother recognized Brittany Smith after spotting her and Easley panhandling outside a Safeway grocery store. Roanoke County Police flew to California to escort her safely back and turned her over to her father, Bennie Smith of South Boston.
She had been a student at Glenvar Middle School. Brittany, now 13, continues to stay with her father and aunts in South Boston.
Other Roanoke County police escorted Easley back from California separately. He has been in jail in the Roanoke County-Salem Jail and later, the Western Virginia Regional Jail in Roanoke County ever since.
In court Monday Roe and Claytor declined to say if they expect Brittany to be a witness when Easley, who was Tina Smith’s boyfriend and who lived in the house with her and her daughter, is tried by a jury in Roanoke County Circuit Court. That trial is scheduled to last up to 10 days, starting March 21.
Before he was charged with capital murder, Easley was first charged with abducting the girl, and later with abduction with intent to defile, or in other words, have sexual contact with her.
The two were camping in a park in San Francisco when police arrested them. They apparently fled in Tina Smith’s car, which was also found in San Francisco.