The biggest question in almost any criminal trial is always if the accused will take the stand in their own defense.

In the Steven Smith trial there never was much of a debate. He was not just a witness for himself he was the only witness. Less than an hour on the stand to determine his guilt or innocence and what will happen with the next half-century of his life.

Seconds before Smith was sworn in, he received some powerful news. He came back from a break facing two counts of attempted murder but by the time he walked the 15 feet to the jury box he already won half the battle.

“The state requests to drop count two. The incident with the vehicle,” Rosenberry told Superior Court W. Michael Wilke. “After the trial evidence yesterday, with former Deputy Steve Peetz, we feel there is insufficient evidence to prove the charge.”

Almost rhetorically, Wilke asked defense attorney Jack Crawford if he objected. Of course he didn’t and the trial pressed on focusing on the first, and now only, count of attempted murder.

Perhaps buoyed by the initial victory, Smith was a solid witness.

“Steven, look at this jury. At these folks,” Crawford encouraged his client. “At anytime that evening or morning did you intend to kill Deputy Marshal Steve Peetz, Marshall Todd Hampton or (ISP) Trooper Anthony Scott?”

Smith’s answer was clear. “No, I did not”

A large part of Smith’s testimony actually covered his enjoyment of guns. The defense tried to use his marksmanship qualities as a way of proving he never intended to kill any officers because he didn’t hit any of them.

“Have you ever fired this particular gun before,” Crawford asked. “Are you a good shot?”

In an unusual twist, the defendant stated he was a gun guy.

“I’ve fired that gun hundreds of times,” he said. “A good shot, yes. If I can see it I can shoot it. I can hit a pop can from 40 yards.”

Crawford then asked Smith how this whole incident came about.

Smith refuted earlier testimony he fired a handgun after an accident in Westport. He said Jim Howard, the owner of the vehicle he hit, the first man he allegedly fired at, was chasing him causing Smith to fear for his own life. He denied running Peetz of the road on purpose and explained why he shot those three shots which brought him to court facing a Class A felony.

Smith said he stopped to get the Russian military bolt action rifle from a friend’s house only after he felt Howard was after him.

“I took the rifle for protection,” Smith said. “I figured he was looking for me.”

Smith left the friend’s house and headed back to Westport. En route, he spotted Peetz. In an effort to get away from the deputy, Smith made his way to Pine Lake where the shooting occurred.

“I ran because I had the gun. I saw the lights flashing (inside the trailer park) from Peetz’ car. I got to the tree line, grabbed the gun and jumped out of the van. I didn’t even throw it in park,” Smith said explaining why he entered the woods. “I ran to a clearing about 100 feet away and looked behind me. I saw Peetz come from around the van with his gun out. The van was the only thing between me and him so I yelled ‘Get away from my van’. He ran back to his car but then other cops started showing up.”

Smith said, at this point, he believed he was trapped.

“I felt cornered as I saw the emergency lights getting closer. I felt like I was watching a big TV,” he said. “When another officer came around the van I yelled again. He turned toward me with his gun out and took three steps in my direction. I veered back and fired a round in the air.”

He still had two more shots to explain away.

“A car started coming toward me with its spotlight activated,” Smith recalled. “The light lit up some trees to the right. I wanted the officers to keep looking in that direction so I shot the tree which had the light shining on it.”

This led to shot number three. The one Smith said came the closest to actually hitting anyone.

“I expected more of an effect, to see the tree splinter or something, but that shot didn’t distract them,” he said. “Then, I turned the gun in the air and aimed at the spotlight. I got ready and started having second thoughts. I thought about the driver in the car being too close to the light. I didn’t want to shoot nobody and get them hurt. So I pulled it back and fired to the side of it.”

It was this third shot which, according to Smith’s story, most-likely sailed over the lake and into a trailer occupied by a woman and her infant child. They weren’t hurt but the woman, who testified in the morning, was still so shaken up she cried on the stand nearly two years after the event took place.

Once Crawford finished questioning his client, Rosenberry took his turn. He wanted to shake Smith from his anti-violence stance.

“To get away from the police you turned onto a dead end road?” he asked. Smith said he did so because he was familiar with the woods and they were near his home.

“You were ordering the police around that night weren’t you?” the prosecutor asked insinuating Smith could have just run away at any time.

“Yes,” Smith said. “I was pleading with them to get back so I could get away. I didn’t want to turn my back on them because 100 feet is not that far. They could hear me and I felt comfort from the big tree next to me.”

Rosenberry said Smith felt comfortable with the “Big gun” too.

“I was scared of the gun. I didn’t want to get shot and I didn’t want to get arrested,” Smith said. “I was afraid because I didn’t know if they saw me get out of the van with the gun. I made a split second decision. A bad one.”

The session wrapped up at 2:30 p.m. with the judge saying he had some issues to discuss with the attorneys.

When court resumes at 9 a.m. today, Rosenberry and Crawford will give their closing arguments.

“I’m sure your disappointed but I’m going to dismiss you for the rest of the day,” Wilke said knowing the jurors were now hanging on every word after a slow morning of evidence presentation. “The case will definitely get to you for your deliberation tomorrow.”

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