Defense questions murder investigation

The second murder trial of Chip Smith began Thursday with testimony by four prosecution witnesses.

In March, a jury could not decide Smith's fate and a mistrial was declared on the charge of first-degree murder of Chris Payton in Golden Valley in August 2001.

The second trial is being presided over by Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss.

After selection of an 11-woman, three-man jury Wednesday, Deputy Mohave County Attorney Lee Jantzen and Defense Attorney Michael Hruby presented opening arguments Thursday.

Then came testimony of three Mohave County sheriff's deputies and Payton's brother Ray.

Hruby described the opening statements as "a preview of what the evidence is anticipated to be … some things are known, and some things … aren't."

At first, Payton's death was thought to have been caused by the rollover of his 1985 Toyota pickup, which was discovered overturned early Aug.

13, 2001, according to sheriff's records.

But after further investigation determined the death to be a homicide, Smith, who had been arrested the day after Payton's death for a parole violation, was charged with murder.

Hruby said the road where the pickup was found, Santa Maria, was graded before sheriff's deputies searched the roadway and adjacent property for evidence.

This was confirmed in testimony by sheriff's detective Carlos Rooks.

Ray Payton testified that he wiped blood off the windshield, door and driver's seat of his brother's truck after it was towed away.

Hruby said Ray Payton's action resulted in no blood spatter evidence from a shooting in the vehicle.

Payton said he wiped the vehicle because he wanted to prevent his parents from seeing the blood when they came to get the pickup.

Investigators found a damaged bullet inside an abandoned trailer near where Payton's body was found.

However, an inspection of the bullet by a state Department of Public Safety crime lab in Flagstaff proved inconclusive, Jantzen said.

Hruby said there was little physical evidence in the case.

He noted that the bullet that killed Payton entered through the driver's side window and exited through the passenger window, but there was no evidence of "tattooing" on Payton's face from gunpowder.

This, he added, was in spite of the fact that a witness, Ashley Holmes – who told investigators she was in the vehicle Smith was driving – said she saw Smith shoot Payton from about one foot away.

Hruby noted that during the earlier trial, Holmes said she did not see any muzzle flash from the rifle police said Smith used to shoot Payton.

He also noted that there were no injuries on Payton's face and upper body, even though Holmes claimed Smith beat Payton with the barrel, butt and side of the weapon.

Hruby then assailed the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

"Due to the incompetency of the government's investigation, there is little physical evidence here," he said, and he noted that Holmes changed her story when she found out that her boyfriend, Steve Richards, who Jantzen said also was riding in Smith's vehicle the night of Payton's death, was also a suspect.

"She's covering for her boyfriend.

She's trying to cut a deal on his behalf," said Hruby.

He noted that the hole in Payton's head was the size of a .22-caliber bullet, but that Holmes claimed Smith used a 9 mm rifle and that a 9 mm bullet is considerably larger than a .22-caliber bullet.

"There is no biological material on that bullet," said Hruby, asking, "Why is Chip Smith even here? There should be a full-scale investigation of the scene.

To this day, MCSO has not canvassed the neighborhood."

Hruby pointed out that Holmes was an admitted drug user

Ray Payton testified that he fired his brother from his auto repair business because of drug use, and Chris Payton had been part of a sheriff's investigation of methamphetamine production.

Sheriff's detective Mark Chastain testified that a methamphetamine pipe was found in Payton's pants' pocket after his death.

The 9 mm assault rifle was dug up in the desert a couple weeks after the murder when a convicted felon, David Hornbeck, tipped off Ray Payton about its location, Payton testified.

Payton said he later turned the weapon over to the sheriff's office after digging it out of a wash next to Aztec Road in Golden Valley, some three to four miles from the scene.

First on the witness stand on Thursday was sheriff's Deputy L.S.


He said he was the second police officer to arrive on scene the night of Payton's death, and noted Payton's truck was resting on its left side with a pool of blood on the ground under the driver's window.

Tarkowski said it was not an unusually large amount of blood, and that he believed that Payton's head struck an object or rock when he fell out of the truck.

Tarkowski said he did not see such an object or rock on scene, however, and did not notice a bullet hole in Payton's head, which was bloodied.

Detective Mark Chastain testified that the sheriff's narcotics enforcement unit had conducted a controlled purchase of illegal drugs from Chris Payton on July 19, 2001, and then received information from a confidential informant about a meth lab at Payton's place a week before his death.

After sending a source into the home, it was learned that the lab had been moved.

Rooks testified that he tried to locate evidence at the scene on Aug.

17, 2001, four days after Payton's death.

Santa Maria, a dirt road, had been graded on Aug.

14, and Rooks and Deputy Sean McGill sifted sand with a shovel, screen and metal detector.

They later found a bullet hole at floor level of an abandoned trailer just off Santa Maria Road.

Golden Valley Fire Department Capt.

Ken Miller found a slightly disfigured bullet resting on a sliding glass door's windowsill inside the trailer, 33 inches above the floor, Rooks testified.

No other bullets were found in the trailer, which was pockmarked by what Rooks called BB gun pellets.

Ray Payton was the fourth and final witness of the day.

He said he was at his mechanic's shop on Saturday, Aug.

11 when Chris Payton introduced Smith.

Ray Payton testified that he saw Smith again on Tuesday, Aug.

14 at Chris Payton's house with Amber Rucker, Payton's niece.

Payton said Smith was there to pick up his vehicle, which Payton had worked on.

Chastain was at the house to check on evidence of a meth lab and was later joined by sheriff's detective Rick Parker.

Hruby questioned Payton about apparent contradictions between his earlier statements and current ones.

Hruby read from an earlier statement of Ray Payton's where he said Chastain arrested Smith.

Payton now says that Parker arrested Smith and Chastain handcuffed him.

Hruby referred to an earlier Payton comment about customers of his who said they had given payments to Chris Payton but that Ray Payton never received the money.

"I believed my brother, because the people I was dealing with were sub-par individuals anyway," said Ray Payton.

"I loaned my brother money quite frequently.

He wouldn't have to steal it."

Payton said he suspected his brother was buying drugs, but continued to loan him money even after he fired him.

Payton said he loaned his brother $50 on Saturday, Aug.

11, 2001, two days before Payton was found dead, with $50 still in his wallet.