Judge hopes to start capital murder trial in June
by Rachael Griffin
rgriffin@annistonstar.com
Apr 11, 2013 | 9361 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A circuit judge said Thursday he is inclined to proceed with a capital murder trial in connection with the 2011 death of a Wellborn Elementary School teacher.

Shaun Quinlan, the attorney appointed to represent Nicholas Smith after Smith was charged with murder, told Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell during a hearing that his “ability to work is not 100 percent,” after he broke his hip in a March accident.

Quinlan told the judge he’s only worked half-days since he had surgery and plans to file a motion to continue the trial.

Nicholas Smith, 23, is one of three men charged with kidnapping and murdering teacher Kevin Thompson in April 2011.

Tyrone Thompson, a childhood friend of Kevin Thompson, and Jovon Gaston, are also alleged to have kidnapped Kevin Thompson and forced him to withdraw money from several banks and ATMs in Jacksonville. The third-grade teacher’s body was discovered by police on U.S. 278 in Cherokee County nearly two days after he was reported missing.

Smith, who was present during the hearing, is being held in Calhoun County Jail.

Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said he believes Quinlan is “having a hard time” after his accident, but the DA said he has other capital murder cases scheduled and would rather not reschedule this trial.

Howell said he would review the motion, but preferred not to change the trial date.

“If at all possible I do not want to continue this case,” Howell said.

The judge suggested Quinlan find a third attorney to work with him on the case.

“Find someone you trust both personally and professionally,” Howell said. “So we can hopefully move forward.”

Quinlan said he was still missing Smith’s mental health, school and social history records from California, Hawaii, Georgia and Florida. Quinlan said the records, particularly those pertaining to mental health and social history, are important to his case.

Howell said he would issue subpoenas in the next few days to ensure those records are obtained before the trial starts. The judge also ordered Smith’s mental health to be evaluated to confirm he’s mentally competent to stand trial.

Janette Gagnon, a mitigation expert in charge of gathering Smith’s records, is travelling to California in May to meet with Smith’s father and other family members, Quinlan noted.

McVeigh told the court he intended to file a written brief explaining why the trial should be held in Calhoun County, even though a change of venue request was never filed. McVeigh said he wanted to have something on the record, since it’s believed the murder occurred in Cherokee County.

“This case could be tried in Cherokee or Calhoun County,” McVeigh said. “The bulk of the evidence is in Calhoun County.”

McVeigh said he wanted to make it “abundantly clear everyone agrees the trial should be held here.”

Quinlan agreed to the brief and said he would meet with the DA to discuss if a change of venue was necessary.

Howell scheduled another status hearing for April 30 to meet with Gagnon and discuss other questions or issues before the trial begins.

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.

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