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Friday, April 3, 1998
One year later, problems with autopsy of murdered
By TERRI LANGFORD /Associated Press Writer
FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (AP) -- Bob and Gay Smither are convinced
their daughter's killer is behind bars, exactly one year after
she was abducted from their street and murdered. So is Friendswood
Police Chief Jared Stout.
But new information, including allegations of evidence tampering,
surfaced Thursday to put Friendswood's precarious case in jeopardy
and raise questions on whether the case ever will move forward
The first problem is that the man jailed since October -- on
an unrelated kidnapping case -- never has been charged with 12-year-old
Laura Smither's April 3, 1997, disappearance or her gruesome murder.
That didn't stop Friendswood's police chief from publicly naming
him last fall. And a lack of physical evidence hasn't stopped
the Smithers from believing this man did it.
"I think they're on the right track," said Smither
earlier this week. "I do think the person who murdered Laura
is in jail. There's just damn little physical evidence and that's
what the police, that's what the courts and everybody has to work
with. It's just a slow process when there's so little evidence"
On Thursday an attorney for a fired Harris County pathologist
announced his client was told last year to change Laura Smither's
autopsy report to indicate that African-American hairs found on
the girl's body were contaminants and that they didn't come from
the crime scene. Dr. Marilyn Murr, dismissed March 18 in an unrelated
whistleblowing case, refused.
The primary suspect for the past six months in the Laura Smither
murder is white.
"She (the pathologist) was asked to say a clump of hairs
she found during the autopsy in and on the hand were contaminants.
They were not on the body when the body was found," said
Dick DeGuerin, attorney for Murr. "She refused to do so."
After disclosure of the possible autopsy problems, an audibly
shaken Mrs. Smither declined to comment Thursday on its significance.
"There's nothing new here and we have no comment ... none
at all," she said.
Harris County Medical Examiner Dr. Joye Carter also declined
to elaborate on the matter.
"I don't have any comment. There's litigation in both
cases," Carter said.
The lawyer for Smither slaying suspect says his client should
"The bottom line is there were hairs found on her body
of black origin," said Anthony Osso, lawyer for the man suspected
by Stout. "It's been our position that they are the hairs
of the perpetrator of the offense."
Once Police Chief Stout named the man last October and his
picture was released to local media, dozens of residents called
in to say they either had doubts about the man or first-hand knowledge
that the 38-year-old construction worker was of dubious character.
Questioned earlier this week, Stout stood behind his decision
to name his primary suspect and rejected the idea he may have
planted a suspect in the minds of residents -- and the Smithers.
"I have reason to believe that we will charge him,"
Stout said Monday. "That is not ultimately my call, but I
have no reason to think we won't charge him."
On Thursday, the police chief reiterated his earlier statement.
"We know who our prime suspect is. Our focus has not changed,"
Laura Smither disappeared on the morning of April 3, 1997 during
a morning jog alone down her street.
The home-schooled girl was concerned with body strength and
stamina after having been just accepted by the Houston Ballet
and often ran with her father. When she didn't return for breakfast,
a search that eventually enlisted thousands of volunteers began.
More than two weeks later -- on April 20, 1997-- Laura's body
was found decapitated and nude in a retention pond in Pasadena
about 15 miles from her home. She was identified by a ring on
one of her fingers and dental records.
Over the next few months and with the help of the FBI and other
law enforcement, Stout's office began looking at several suspects,
mostly past sex offenders. During that review, Stout came across
his primary suspect, who was working as a bulldozer operator in
the neighborhood where the girl disappeared.
But after a search of his home and truck turned up nothing
and a lie detector test was determined to be inconclusive, no
arrest was made. Then in October, the man accused in the aggravated
kidnapping of a 19-year-old woman was named by Stout as the primary
suspect in Laura Smither's slaying.
Evidence was collected from the man's truck and home and submitted
to the Department of Public Safety for testing. Results are expected
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