INDIO, Calif. - A Bermuda Dunes man was convicted today of murdering his 63-year-old wife, who was shot seven times in the head and chest at close range.
Jurors deliberated about a day and a half before finding 57-year-old Garey Lee Smith guilty of first-degree murder for the Aug. 22, 2010, death of his wife Sandra at the couple's Trinity Circle residence.
Smith faces 50 years to life in prison, with sentencing set for June 7 at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
Deputy District Attorney Joshua Hill told jurors in his closing argument that Smith penned a letter apologizing to his son and stepchildren in anticipation of committing a homicide, not taking his own life as the defense maintained.
``The defendant is apologizing to his children for what he's about to do to their mother,'' Hill said.
He said Smith, who had military training, aimed his 9mm handgun to shoot his wife in the head and chest from two inches to two feet away.
``I would argue to you this is an execution-style murder,'' Hill said, adding that Smith was calm when he called 911 after the shooting.
``It's the demeanor of a man who completed a plan he devised at least since he sat down to write the note,'' Hill said, arguing that the defendant's testimony showed that ``to this day, he's completely disconnected to what he did to her that night.''
Defense attorney Richard Verlato maintained that his client had planned to kill himself for a combination of reasons. When his wife saw him with the gun, she said, ``Kill yourself, you worthless (expletive),'' Verlato said.
``That one statement was so painful to Garey that it set him off from that moment,'' Verlato said in his closing argument. ``... I think that statement is a cold, mean thing to say to someone considering suicide and who may in the future.''
He said Smith had no motive or plan to kill his wife.
``If Garey Smith had thought about killing at that moment, he would have known the consequence would be losing the one thing he had -- his family. He had nothing else,'' the attorney said.
He said Hill inferred that Smith was laughing in the 911 call.
``He wasn't laughing, he was crying,'' said Verlato, who argued that Smith committed manslaughter, not murder.
Smith testified Monday that he didn't plan to kill his wife and ``lost everything'' as a result.
Under questioning from Verlato, Smith testified that his wife's death
didn't benefit him financially.
``Do you feel there was any good outcome that night?'' Verlato asked.
``It was a horrible outcome,'' Smith said. ``My wife, my best friend, is gone, she's not coming back. I lost my children, I lost everything.''
Later, Verlato asked his client, ``Mr. Hill said you had no remorse. Is that true?''
``That's not true at all,'' Smith said.
The night she died, Sandra Smith confronted her husband at a family barbecue about ``spending too much time around a female guest who was also at the location,'' according to the prosecution's trial brief. Garey Smith had consumed several beers at the barbecue.
Sandra Smith wanted to leave and her husband didn't, daughter-in-law Kari Smith testified. He was irritated about leaving, but the couple had fought about when they would leave a gathering in the past, the witness said.
Garey Smith's stepson, Eric Stidham, said he saw the couple arguing when he returned home, and his stepfather ``expressed his frustration over the victim embarrassing him at the barbecue.'' Later that night, Stidham said he was awakened by a noise and saw Sandra Smith lying on her side in her bedroom, but did not see her husband before returning to his bed.
While Stidham was sleeping, the defendant called 911 and said he had shot the victim five times and that she was dead. He told the sheriff's deputy who handcuffed him that ``I shot my wife and the gun's in the house.''