Opening statements begin in park murders trial

Dominique Smith (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Dominique Smith (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Opening statements in the first-degree murder trial of Dominique Smith began in district court Monday morning.

Smith is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder. He is accused of killing Jessica Palmer and her son, Juan, in 2008. They were found in a BREC park in north Baton Rouge with their throats cut. Smith is also suspected of cutting the throat of his own daughter, Paige, who was four years old at the time, and an infant.

Prosecutor Darwin Miller told the jury it will hear from Smith's accomplice, Trindel Mathews, who has already pleaded guilty, to prove his role in the murders. Defense attorneys said Smith wasn't even nearby when the murders happened. They said Smith was working out at a jogging track.

The first witnesses should be called early in the afternoon. The case is expected to last at least a week.

The victims were all found in Doyle's Bayou Park on Pride-Port Hudson Road near Zachary in May 2008. One of the girls had cuts all over her hands, while the other had a cut across her throat. They both survived. Investigators said a complicated love triangle led to the killings. Smith was a former boyfriend of the victim, while Matthews, who was dating Smith at the time of the murders, is Palmer's second-cousin, according to relatives.

"They actually lured Jessica to the park along with her children, where the killings took place," said sheriff's department spokeswoman Casey Hicks back in May 2008.

Detectives believe the killings took place on a Sunday evening at the park and the two young girls who survived were there overnight. They were discovered the Monday afternoon by a BREC worker cutting grass. Johnson and her son were later found in wooded area of the park.

Shortly after the killings, deputies praised four-year-old Lindsay Paige Johnson, whose own throat had been cut, with saving her baby sister.

"If you can imagine a little 4-year-old, who had been cut, pick up her 6-month-old infant sister and carrying her out of those woods and get as far as she did to the front of the park. That's just a miracle," Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said back in May 2008.

Detectives said Dominique Smith is the father of the four-year-old, but is not the father of any of the victim's other children. The sheriff also said Smith's vehicle, which was left at the scene, also led them back to him. Sheriff's officials found his keys and matched them to the truck. However, deputies said the story told by that frightened four-year-old girl was the key to the arrests.

"The statements that we got from the four-year-old were consistent with what we found on the scene," the sheriff said.

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