EVERETT — In the end it was Alan Smith’s own words that convinced a Snohomish County judge that the Bothell man planned and carried out the brutal murder of his estranged wife.
Superior Court Judge Linda Krese on Wednesday convicted Alan Smith of first-degree murder in the February 2013 beating, stabbing and drowning death of Susann Smith.
The judge spent several minutes outlining the evidence she heard at trial. She concluded that the physical evidence collected at scene and in the weeks after the slaying wasn’t strong enough on its own to prove that Smith was guilty of murder. Krese said Smith’s confession to a man he met at church did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was responsible for the slaying.
Smith kept his eyes closed through most of the judge’s presentation. His shoulders slumped and he cradled his chin in his hand as the lawyers worked out a sentencing date for later this month. The former Boeing engineer faces a minimum of 22 years in prison.
Krese became the sole trier of the evidence when Smith, 39, opted to forgo a jury trial. The judge already had heard significant portions of the testimony in pre-trial motions. Even so, Snohomish County deputy prosecutors Craig Matheson and Katie Wetmore presented more than 600 exhibits and called more than a dozen witnesses to testify during the three-week trial.
They alleged that Smith “went off the rails” over the ongoing divorce and child custody battle with his wife. He had racked up $15,000 in credit card debt in a year and feared that his wife was going to move their two children, ages 3 and 6, to her native Germany. He ranted to friends, coworkers and at least one girlfriend that his wife was evil and that the court system was rigged. He accused his wife of being an unfit parent and asked the court to assign a guardian ad-litem to investigate his allegations. A judge concluded that his claims were unfounded and declined his request.
About two weeks later Susann Smith was found face down in a bathtub. Her killer bludgeoned and stabbed her nearly two dozen times before dragging her into the bathroom. She was still alive when she was placed in the bathtub. An autopsy revealed that she died of drowning.
Alan Smith’s DNA was found on a washcloth under the slain woman’s body. An expert also testified that the bloody footprints found throughout the house were a match for the slight man’s feet. The bloody pattern found on the side of the tub also was similar to the pattern made by the disposable coveralls that Smith had bought.
Bothell detectives never recovered the murder weapons. Prosecutors alleged that Smith threw them away in a dumpster on his way to work. They also alleged that evidence, including the global positioning system on his Mercedes, showed that he attempted to return to the crime scene to destroy more evidence.
Four months later he confessed to Wendell Morris, whom he had met at a Seattle church. Alan Smith sought the man’s help with his then-girlfriend, a mentally ill woman who hanged herself in April.
The defense had fought to keep the testimony out, arguing that the conversation was protected because the man is a licensed minister. Morris said he wasn’t acting as a clergyman when Smith made the statements.
At trial the defense dismissed the confession, saying the man from church had his own agenda. It didn’t make sense that Smith would confess to a man he barely knew if he had taken such pains to avoid being caught. The defense suggested that Susann Smith was attacked during a burglary by one or possibly two people. The defense also suggested that the killing was perpetrated by a secret boyfriend.
Krese on Wednesday said she found Morris to be a sincere and earnest witness who felt obligated by his beliefs to tell the truth. She said she reviewed his testimony several times and found it to be credible.
At the time Smith confessed, he had lost custody of his children and was under scrutiny by the police and media. He was in a chaotic relationship with an unstable woman who later committed suicide. He was distraught and found a sympathetic and supportive listener in Morris.
“It is not unbelievable that (Smith) unburdened himself to Mr. Morris,” Krese said.