The state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the convictions of Norman Smart in the 2014 brutal beating and strangulation of his wife, Lauren Brown Smart, in the presence of her 6-year-old son.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Carol Hunstein, the justices ruled the evidence at trial was “sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that (Smart) was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted.”
Smart, 37, was convicted of murder and related offenses and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 20 years for the June 7, 2014, slaying of his wife in their Wilmington Island home.
The victim, 34, was found dead on the carpeted floor of the couple’s master bedroom in their Walthour Road home about 9:05 a.m. June 7 after Smart called 911 to report his wife was dead.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Guyer told jurors in her closing arguments that Smart “beat the hell out of her.”
Testimony highlighted a troubled marriage where Lauren Smart was afraid of her husband and his repeated abuse. Norman Smart had beaten his first wife regularly and had a history of beating Lauren Smart, according to testimony.
In her final text to Norman Smart at 2:13 a.m. that day, his wife told him, “You’re a terrible husband.”
Her son later told a friend and family members that he has heard “screaming, screaming, screaming,” and had also heard Smart hitting his mother during the night. The little boy imitated punching, saying, “bam, bam, bam, bam.”
When Smart later told the child he heard thunder, the court said, “the boy knew it was (Smart) wearing his boxing gloves and his mother as he always wore the gloves when he hit her.”
The high court specifically rejected Smart’s argument that the judge abused his discretion in admitting testimony of Smart’s first wife’s sister as part of what prosecutors said was “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identify or absence of mistake or accident.”
The court said Chatham County Superior Court Judge Michael Karpf correctly allowed the evidence for the purposes of showing Smart’s motive “to control family members by violence.”
The court also upheld use of evidence of other crimes or acts, ruling that while that evidence was prejudicial against Smart, “as almost all evidence presented by the state will be — on balance we agree with the trial court that the probative native of (the testimony) outweighs that prejudice.”