As prosecutor Eleanor Dixon concluded her closing remarks Wednesday, she produced a birthday cake with eight candles. Missing, she said, were candles marking Josef Smith’s subsequent birthdays.
“You may think it’s harsh, but it’s true,” she said after singing the “Happy Birthday” song to Josef. The dead boy’s parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, are charged with his murder. Both broke down in tears at the sight of the cake.
“You can stand up and say to Cobb County, we don’t let parents abuse their child until they die,” she told the jury. “Speak the truth for little Josef.”
But the truth, according to defense attorney Manny Arora, was that Josef died from an infection brought on by eczema. “You gotta look at the eczema issues,” he said in a courtroom crowded with members of Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tenn., which is paying for the Smiths’ legal defense.
While admitting the autopsy photos were damaging to his defense, Arora said, “But we will prove our case on science and not emotion.”
Jurors will resume deliberations today.
Arora charged the prosecution with “throwing enough stuff at the wall” hoping that something sticks. The Smiths are charged with 14 counts each, including murder, felony murder, first-degree child cruelty, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.
Arora also challenged the testimony of the Smiths’ oldest son, Mykel Booth, who now lives with his maternal grandmother. Booth alleged that Josef was beaten with a glue stick — a flexible material used inside glue guns — as well as with belts, clothes hangers and extension cords. Booth also testified that his little brother was locked inside a tightly woven wicker box, where prosecutors allege he died from asphyxiation and blunt-force trauma to his head.
“I can’t rehash the box anymore … the box did not happen,” said Arora, who said Mykel’s conflicting accounts cast doubt over his testimony. In Booth’s initial statement to police, he didn’t mention the wicker box.
Dixon said the parents’ statements to police indicate their complicity in Josef’s death.
“They admit hitting the child,” she said. “He [Joseph Smith] admits putting the child in the closet. He abused his son every day. They admit their actions.”
Arora acknowledged some jurors might not relate to the Smiths’ brand of discipline.
“It seems their type of discipline is a generation behind,” he said. “The issue becomes, is that criminal? If you believe that, that’s battery.”
“To say this is battery, this is reckless conduct … is an insult,” Dixon countered. “These two are murderers and the state has proven this beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Arora was emotional in his final words to the jury: “They [the Smiths] didn’t do it. They just didn’t.”