Suspect awaits 3rd murder trial

Smith’s conviction for 2001 slaying of Golden Valley man was overturned

KINGMAN - The date for the third trial of a Golden Valley man charged with second-degree murder is still uncertain.

Mohave County Judge Robert R. Moon scheduled a status hearing for 8:30 a.m. on May 3 to allow time for Chip Moray Smith's defense attorney, Michael Hruby, to confer with the prosecuting attorney, who has yet to be named.

Attorney Lee Jantzen told Moon that Josh Ackerman would probably take over for him as Jantzen transitions into the appointed court commissioner position.

Smith, 36, is charged with the murder of Chris Payton, 30, of Golden Valley on Aug. 13, 2001. Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss sentenced Smith to the maximum 22 years in prison without parole for the Class 1 felony on Oct. 17, 2003. The conviction was secured at the second trial on the charge.

The first trial was declared a mistrial after it ended in a hung jury in March 2003. Smith appealed the jury's conviction from the second trial and now the case is being tried again by the county attorney's office.

One of the issues with the verdict was the removal of one of the jurors during the second trial. The Arizona Court of Appeals found fault with the handling of the juror and set aside the conviction and sentence.

"The trial court's inquiry into the jury's deliberative process invaded the subjective motives or mental processes of the jurors," the appellate court ruled. "The questioning (by the judge) constituted improper coercion because it displaced the independent judgment of the jurors."

Law enforcement first believed Payton was killed in a traffic accident but later determined he died from a gunshot wound to the head. Jantzen argued at the first two trials that Smith shot Payton during a confrontation along a rural roadway in Golden Valley. During the trials, lead witness for the prosecution, Ashley Holmes, said she saw Smith shoot Payton at close range with a 9-mm rifle.

Investigators believed Payton's truck inched forward and rolled after he was shot, making the scene appear to be a traffic accident.

Holmes said she was one of three people on the scene at Santa Maria Road in Golden Valley the night Payton was killed. The others included Holmes' boyfriend, Steve Richards, and Smith's girlfriend, Jacquelyn Butler.

Richards is currently on parole in California but was unwilling to testify. He may be subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution in the upcoming trial.