Witness describes shooting death in Golden Valley

A woman tearfully described a shooting death in Golden Valley two years ago as the murder trial for Chip Moray Smith began Thursday.

Ashley Holmes said she and her fiancé feared for their safety after seeing Smith shoot Chris Darren Payton with a rifle early Aug.

13, 2001.

"I was scared that he was coming after us," Holmes testified in Mohave County Superior Court.

She said she and fiancé spent a night in the desert after Smith dropped them at a home after the shooting along Santa Maria Road, north of Chino Drive.

Holmes said she, her fiancé and second woman rode with Smith in a car when Smith confronted Payton driving the opposite direction along Santa Maria Road.

Holmes said she and her fiancé had first gotten a ride with Payton to his house around 8 p.m.

She said Payton then left the house and she saw him later driving his pickup along Santa Maria Road by the house.

In the meantime, she testified, Smith, 32, showed up at the house he shared with Payton, loaded a rifle with ammunition, left and returned, taking Holmes and her fiancé for a ride to what would be a deadly confrontation.

Deputy Mohave County Attorney Lee Jantzen admitting during his opening remarks that much of the physical evidence in the case had been lost.

Jantzen said that Payton's brother, believing Payton had been involved in a fatal accident, cleaned blood from the Toyota pickup to ease their parents' agony.

A bullet from the 9 mm rifle used to kill Payton and later found in an unoccupied home was too fragmented to be conclusive evidence, Jantzen said.

Jantzen said he would rely heavily on witnesses, especially his first, Holmes.

No other witnesses are expected to testify in the trial.

The prosecutor also said Smith admitted to police that he drove by what he said was an accident scene but did not stop to help despite being friends with Payton, or call for help.

In his opening comments, Smith's attorney, Michael Hruby, said the bullet could not be linked to Smith.

Smith's fingerprints were not on the gun later found half buried in the desert, and his DNA obtained from a blood sample could not be tied to the rifle.

"What did happen?" Hruby asked the 14-person jury.

"The state doesn't know.

The lack of evidence is every bit important.

Not one bit of evidence can be connected to Chip Smith.

Nothing.

Zero."

Investigators thought Payton, 39, of Golden Valley was the victim of the fatal accident after his pickup flipped along Santa Maria Road.

An autopsy the next day revealed a bullet wound to Payton's forehead and his death was ruled a homicide.

Smith in the meantime had been jailed for probation violation when he was charged with murder.

Guided by Jantzen, Holmes recounted the night of Aug.

12-13.

She told how she and her fiancé had driven to Payton's house around 8 p.m.

Payton had left and never returned.

She told how she later saw Payton driving his Toyota four-wheel drive pickup truck up and down Santa Maria Road.

She testified that Smith showed up at the house around 11:30 p.m.

angry, cussing beneath his breath.

That was the first time she saw him that angry, she added.

She saw Smith load a rifle or shotgun and leave in a rage.

She said Smith aimed the gun at Payton driving along the street but didn't fire.

Holmes testified that because she was tired of waiting for Payton to return, she and her fiancé asked Smith, who was with another woman, for a ride.

With the rifle between Smith and his female passenger, the two couples drove down Santa Maria Road when they passed Payton's truck coming in the opposite direction.

Holmes tearfully testified how Smith slammed the brakes and got out with the rifle even before the car came to a stop, went up to the truck's window and yelled at Payton.

She said the vehicles were about 10 feet apart when Smith started hitting Payton with the gun and his fist.

She said Smith turned away then turned back and shot Payton.

She also described how Payton's head snapped backward.

Smith then got back into the car saying that he didn't mean shoot Payton and how sorry he was for doing it, Holmes testified.

Frightened that Smith would turn on them, Holmes and her fiancé said nothing.

Smith then drove the couple to another house where he left them.

Holmes said she wanted to call for help but the phone was disconnected at the house.

When Smith did not return, the couple, frightened of Smith, started walking into the desert and waited until the sun came up.

With nowhere else to go, they went back to the house when Smith drove up in a different car.

He did not have the rifle with him at that point, Holmes said.

Fearing Smith, Holmes lied to Payton's parents, her mother and several other people, telling them that Payton was in an accident, she testified.

When police contacted her mother several days she told her mother everything that happened and told police she lied about it.

"Are you making it up to protect your boyfriend?" Jantzen asked.

"No," she said.

"Did he (her boyfriend) shoot Chris Payton?" Jantzen asked.

"No."

Hruby cross-examined Holmes and tried to poke holes in her narrative, finding inconsistencies in her interview with him and police after the shooting.

He asked about the lighting.

She described a bright house light near Payton's house.

Hruby also asked her whether Smith, who has bad vision, was wearing glasses.

"No," she said.

He asked why Holmes got into a car with Smith at Payton's house when he was that angry and carrying a gun.

Uncomfortable with the cross-examination, Holmes snapped that it was not directly after Smith's show of anger when they asked for the ride.

More than once Hruby asked her whether she knew anything about guns.

He also asked how Smith held the rifle, using a toy gun as a prop.

Holmes flatly refused to demonstrate using the toy.

After a conference with Judge Richard Weiss, Hruby had Holmes draw the shooting scene on paper.

He asked her where the two vehicles were, how far away she was, and how much light there was to see by.

She later testified that she thought Smith held the gun about chest level, holding it with both hands.

She said she did not know Smith was left-handed.

Hruby also asked whether she used and dealt drugs and whether Payton had used drugs, to which she said yes.

She testified that she did not take any drugs or alcohol that night.

She also said that Payton acted frightened that day, worried that he owed someone lots of money.

She also said she knew Smith for only two months.

Hruby said in transcripts from his interview with her that she said she knew Smith longer than that.

The trial is expected to last about a week.

Jantzen previously stated he would not seek the death penalty against Smith.