The father of Josef Smith said his family was “really scared” of the 8-year-old son he and his wife Sonya Smith are accused of murdering, according to testimony from a Cobb County police officer Wednesday.
Sgt. Steven Gaynor said Smith told him a day after the boy’s death in October 2003 his son acted as if he were possessed by the devil.
“I pictured it like ‘The Exorcist,’ ” said Gaynor, who testified that Joseph Smith told him the boy was capable of acts and deeds not consistent with an 8-year-old. The father said his son would often speak in a frightening tone, telling his parents, “I am Legion, soldier of the devil.”
Joseph and Sonya Smith, of Mableton, each face one count of murder, three counts of felony murder, five counts of first-degree child cruelty, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.
Jurors were shown autopsy photos of Josef that displayed numerous bruises and abrasions all over his body.
“He [Joseph Smith] jokingly told me … if he [Josef] ever goes to the hospital, they’re going to drag mommy and daddy to jail,” Gaynor testified. Gaynor said Joseph Smith told him he had “disciplined” his son with a glue-stick four to five times the day of the boy’s death.
About 2 p.m. that day, Josef had been sent to his room after misbehaving, Joseph Smith told police. Even though he was locked inside, Josef escaped — as he often did, according to his father — and proceeded to steal the modem from the family’s computer while also spilling lotion taken from his mother’s bathroom.
“This led to problems and further discipline,” Gaynor testified.
Later the father noticed his son’s urine had a brownish tint, he told police. He also was complaining of stomach pains.
“They’re in the kitchen, kneeling to pray, and young Josef makes some strange noises,” Gaynor said. As the family rose to their feet, Josef remained on the ground, soaking wet and warm to the touch, his father told police.
The family then called 911, Joseph Smith told Gaynor. Josef died later that night at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.
“Josef’s body will tell you the story of what happened to him,” prosecutor Eleanor Dixon told jurors in opening remarks. “There was beating after beating after beating, and then he died.”
Defense attorney Manny Arora said evidence will show the medical examiner did not perform tests that would have cleared his clients.
Dixon said the boy was locked in a box before the family called 911 for help, an allegation denied by Arora, who said Josef’s injuries were caused by a fall.
Members of Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tenn., were present in the courtroom Wednesday. The Smiths told police they were preparing to watch an Internet service from the church when they first noticed something was wrong with Josef.
The church endorses corporal punishment, but founder Gwen Shamblin told The Tennessean “we don’t leave marks.” She called spanking a “loving, time-tested ancient teaching from the Bible.”
Church members paid for the parents’ bail and also are footing their legal bills, Shamblin told the newspaper.
“It has been three years now, and I am more sure of their innocence than ever,” said Shamblin, who created the Weigh Down Worskshop, a popular Christian weight-loss program. “The forensic evidence that will come out in court will prove the innocence of the Smiths.”
Joseph Smith’s account of his son’s alleged behavior problems are consistent with a complaint filed by his daughter from another marriage. She told investigators in Henry County that Josef acted as if he were “demon possessed … his eyes rolling in the back of his head as if he were going through some transformation.”
A memo from the Henry County Division of Family and Children Services said Josef had written on the walls that he was going to kill everyone and once jammed a heated fork down the pants of one of his siblings.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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