Nearly two years after police say four members of one Elkview family were killed in their home, a trial against the teenager accused in their deaths started Monday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
Gavin Smith faces four counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the deaths of his mother, stepfather and two younger brothers.
Smith was 16 on Dec. 13, 2020, when the bodies of Daniel Dale Long, 37, Risa Mae Saunders, 49, Gage Ripley, 12, and Jameson Long, 3, were discovered in their home in the 1300 block of Cemetery Drive in Elkview. He is alleged to have killed them days before, on Dec. 9.
During opening statements Monday, Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor JC MacCallum said Smith, now 18, was a frustrated teenager who shot his family because he wanted to be with his girlfriend and co-defendant, Rebecca Walker.
In his opening statement, defense attorney John Sullivan told jurors Smith shot and killed the four family members. The case is not a “whodunit,” he said.
“What happened was, my client shot and killed his family,” Sullivan said. “His mother, his stepfather, his 12-year-old brother Gage, his 3-year-old brother Jameson.”
“When you’re done with your jury service, you’re not going to make any more sense of what happened,” Sullivan added. “There’s not going to be a good answer provided to you. All that we’re going to try to do is put forth all the facts that are available for you to make your decision.”
Sullivan said the question for jurors is whether the shooting deaths meet the legal definition of first-degree murder and involved premeditation, deliberation, intent and malice.
“Malice might be the one that you’re going to have to think the hardest about,” Sullivan said.
Walker previously pleaded guilty to four counts of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder for assisting Smith after the shooting had taken place. Kanawha Circuit Judge Kenneth Ballard sentenced her to 2 1/2 years for each count, for a total of 10 years.
Walker is expected to testify during Smith’s week-long trial.
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Jurors on Monday heard from Tim Saunders, father of Risa Saunders and grandfather to Smith. Saunders testified to finding the four bodies in the home on Dec. 13, 2020. Saunders said he came to the house around 10:30 or 11 a.m., after the couple failed to pick up their vehicle that Saunders had been working on.
There, he found Risa and Dan shot to death in their bed. Gage was dead on the floor next to the bed. At the time, Saunders said, he looked around but couldn’t find Smith or Jameson.
Deputies found Jameson, the toddler, partially under his crib, according to testimony from Sgt. P.J. Lively of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office.
Saunders testified that Risa and Dan, who were on food stamps, kept locks on the refrigerator and freezer doors to keep the boys from getting into it and eating while the couple was asleep. The boys could eat a lot, he said.
Saunders said the children did not appear to be malnourished or restricted from eating. He said Smith had previously run away from the home seven times. In some instances, Smith was later found at the home of his great-grandfather or at Walker’s home, Saunders said. Risa and Dan did not allow Smith to see Walker or to visit friends, Saunders said.
“Mostly, they’d have to earn privileges,” Saunders said. “And that was just to go to my house or dad’s. Everything else, they just didn’t do.”
Smith also was required to care for his brother Jameson, Saunders said. As Saunders left the stand, he asked for and was given permission to hug Smith.
Detective Robert Alford, of the Kanawha sheriff’s office, testified Monday that deputies found Smith at the home of Walker’s grandmother, outside Clendenin. Walker initially told police Smith was not in the house, but deputies found him hiding behind a dresser, Alford said.
Video footage taken from surveillance cameras at Herbert Hoover High School show Smith riding by on a bicycle shortly before 3:30 p.m. Dec. 9.
Smith’s trial continues Tuesday morning.
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