New Trial Possible in Bizarre Bomb Case

March 6, 2005
By Woody Baird
The Associated Press
The Seattle Times

Photo: A photo released by federal prosecutors shows former Memphis, Tenn., medical examiner O. C. Smith wrapped in barbed wire. A homemade bomb also was hung around his neck when he was found early on June 2, 2002. (U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE / AP)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jurors weren't convinced that the city's top medical examiner would tie himself up with barbed wire and hang a bomb around his neck — all because he craved attention.

Federal prosecutors now must decide if they want to try former medical examiner O.C. Smith again and hope for better luck with a different group of jurors.

"I will say that retrials usually favor the government," U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins said after Smith's three-week trial ended Tuesday with a hung jury.

Jurors said they practically were at each others' throats by the end of three days of arguing. Nine wanted to acquit, and three wanted to convict.

Prosecutors are expected to decide by April 19 if they will take Smith to trial again on charges — filed after a yearlong investigation by 17 law-enforcement agencies — of lying to investigators and illegally possessing a bomb. They say the bizarre incident put several police officers in danger.

Smith was found at 12:30 a.m. on June 2, 2002, in an outside stairwell of the Shelby County morgue, padlocked to a window screen with his feet, wrists and head wrapped in barbed wire. A homemade bomb was hung at his neck. He told authorities he was attacked by someone who threw a chemical in his face, causing minor burns.

Prosecutors contend the attack could not have happened the way Smith said. They also say he craves attention and sympathy because of a mental disorder.

Defense and prosecution lawyers met with jurors after the mistrial Tuesday. Each side read the jury's 9-3 split differently.

Smith's lawyer, James Garts, said the lopsided vote shows another trial would be a waste of time and money. "There's just not enough justification for that," he said.

Cummins, however, said six jurors who voted for acquittal were not convinced of Smith's innocence but felt the government failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"We have an opportunity to maybe go do some more investigation and cover some issues that maybe it became apparent during the trial weren't thoroughly addressed," he said.

James Cavanaugh, the top agent in Alabama and Tennessee for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the ATF wants a second trial because bomb charges against "the chief medical examiner of a major American city" should not be left unsettled.

Jurors said some basic questions were left unanswered, such as a motive and exactly how Smith could have staged the attack.

"There are some questions about [Smith's report], but still there was not enough evidence to prove he lied or knowingly possessed the bomb," jury forewoman Chrystal Rice-Johnson said.

Prosecutors said Smith staged the attack to draw sympathy after critics attacked his testimony at a much-publicized clemency hearing for a death-row inmate. However, a psychiatrist testifying for the government was limited to a general discussion on mental disorders and barred from talking about Smith directly.

Smith, who resigned last year after he was indicted, described the trial as rough but said he could handle a second one. "How could this possibly compare to the events of June 1, 2002?" he said.

The charges carry a maximum 20 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines would call for a much lighter punishment upon conviction.

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