Michael Smith to face murder trial in death of son - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Cops: Pot found in home where teacher's son with special needs drowned in tub

Source: WGCL Source: WGCL

A judge has decided a Clayton County school teacher's case will head to trial after the man was charged with child cruelty and second-degree murder in the death of his severely disabled stepson.

Clayton County Judge Richard Brown found that there is enough evidence to send the case to trial. The ruling came at the end of a preliminary hearing Thursday morning.

Michael David Smith, a school teacher at Roberta T. Smith Elementary School in Rex, appeared at the hearing in shackles and wearing a red jailhouse jumpsuit.

Investigators say Smith placed his 11-year-old wheelchair-bound, autistic stepson in a bathtub and left to tend to two younger children. When he returned, the boy was lifeless.

The incident happened June 28 at the family's home on Mill Lake Way in Morrow. Smith's wife was at a car dealership at the time, getting on oil change on her vehicle, she said.

“It could’ve been me," Dana Smith told CBS46 News. "I went to the car dealership instead of him. It could've been me."

During the preliminary hearing, Detective Michael Ward testified that responding officers noticed an overwhelming smell of marijuana coming from the garage. The officer found the remnants of several marijuana cigarettes on the floor, he said.

"One was still warm to the touch,” Ward said.

When asked whose marijuana was in the garage, Dana Smith answered, "“It’s up to the police to have an investigation," adding that her husband is a loving, caring father to her children. The other children who were in the home the day of their brother's death have been placed in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services, she said.

According to Ward's testimony, Smith gave three different reasons for leaving the child in the bathtub. Ward said Smith claimed he needed to make breakfast for the younger children. He also said he needed to break up a fight between the younger children, Ward testified. 

Thirdly, Smith claimed the following, according to Ward:

“It’s in his incident report that he made the statement that that’s the only time he could get alone time or quiet time,” Ward said. 

Defense attorney Marsha Mignott argued that Ward's testimony is not credible, pointing out that Ward did not mention an excuse of "alone time" when he testified at a July 18 hearing in juvenile court. Ward said he didn't learn the information until after the July 18 hearing.

Mignott also argued that there was no probable cause for a murder charge because the autopsy report is not ready yet.

“What we have here is a rush to judgment,” Mignott told the judge.

Despite that, the judge moved the case forward and will let a jury decide whether Smith is guilty or innocent of second degree murder and cruelty to children.

Hours after the boy's death, a CBS46 camera captured video of Smith as detectives led him in handcuffs to a patrol car. 

The next day at his arraignment, Smith had tears in his eyes when the judge formally read the charges. Several of Smith's fellow teachers appeared at the arraignment to show their support. Friends say Smith loved his stepson.

"In the morning, he brings the child to school in the wheelchair," said friend Jo Barnes. "I've never seen him snatch on him, pulling or yelling."

But police felt strongly enough about the neglect component to charge Smith with second-degree murder.

"We all have a responsibility as parents and just citizens in general to be responsible for our actions and the care of our children," said Clayton County Police Major Kevin Roberts.

The child's mother is also facing obstruction charges after being accused of not responding to a DFACS order for the other children in the house.

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