A 9-year-old girl whose throat was cut in a 2008 attack that killed her mother and 3-year-old brother testified Wednesday that her dad — Dominique Dantoni Smith — and a lady “came out of the woods” and attacked them, but it was her dad who cut her mom and brother at the BREC park near Zachary.
Lindsay Paige Johnson, who was 4 at the time of the attack, also testified that the lady — later identified as Smith’s girlfriend, Trendall Lashel Matthews — hit her mom with a baseball bat.
Smith, 31, of Wilson, is standing trial on two counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, and would be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. Matthews, 25, of Jackson, pleaded guilty to the same murder and attempted murder charges in 2011 in return for life sentences. She testified against Smith on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lindsay Paige Johnson, whose family calls her Paige, testified for about 20 minutes from a second-floor courtroom at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse while the jury, Smith, two of his attorneys, a prosecutor, spectators and sheriff’s deputies remained in an eighth-floor courtroom and watched the third-grader’s testimony on a large video screen.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Darwin Miller and Daryl Gold, one of Smith’s attorneys, questioned Paige in the second-floor courtroom. State District Judge Tony Marabella was in that courtroom as well.
Paige, who wore a dress and sweater and had a bow in her hair, testified she was at Doyle’s Bayou Park on Pride-Port Hudson Road with her mom, Jessica Johnson Palmer, 23, of Baker; 3-year-old brother, Juan Palmer Jr., or “J.P.”; and 6-month-old sister, Robbyn Palmer, when her dad and a lady “came out of the woods.”
“Then the lady grabbed a bat. Then they cut my mom’s neck,” she said. When Miller asked who “they” were, the girl replied, “Dominique.”
“Then they beat my mommy with a bat,” Paige said. Miller again asked who she meant by “they,” and the girl answered, “the lady.”
“Then they cut his (J.P.’s) neck,” she said. Once again, Miller inquired about the identity of “they,” and she said, “Dominique.”
Paige testified she does not know who cut her neck.
“They threw me, my mom and J.P. in a ditch,” the girl said. “The lady and Dominique,” she added when Miller asked who “they” were.
Paige and Robbyn were left overnight in the park for dead.
Gold asked Paige if she remembered telling detectives after the incident that a lady in pink clothes cut her, her mother and little brother, and Paige said she did not remember. The girl also told Gold she did not remember picking the lady — Matthews — out of a photographic lineup.
The trial will resume Thursday.
Also testifying Wednesday was Michelle Minor, who had a child with Smith and was living with him and his three children at his Wilson home at the time of the park attack.
Minor testified that Smith had told her on several occasions that he was tired of Jessica Palmer and wanted Minor to do something to her. Minor said she assumed Smith meant he wanted Palmer harmed. Minor said she always refused.
Minor recalled Smith leaving his house the morning of May 4, 2008, when the park attacks occurred.
“He didn’t say where he was going but he said he had found someone to do something to her (Palmer),” she said.
Minor said Smith returned home late that afternoon, and was “extremely quiet — like something’s wrong.” She said she questioned Smith.
“He said Trendall did something to Jessica” at the park, Minor said. “He said Trendall had come from behind and hit her in the head about 50 times.”
“He said the little girl was saying, ‘Daddy, stop her.’ ”
Minor said Smith, who came home in different clothes, asked her to dispose of those clothes as well as his car’s steering wheel cover and seat covers. She said she did so.
The next day, Minor said, Smith called her from work and said if anyone asked she was to tell them that she, Smith, Matthews and a neighbor were at a jogging track behind Lane Memorial Medical Center the day the attack took place.
Matthews, who testified Tuesday that Smith fatally slit the throats of Jessica Palmer and Juan Palmer Jr. and cut the throat of Paige Johnson, admitted Wednesday that she initially lied to sheriff’s detectives.
“I was scared, so I lied to them,” she said while being questioned by Gold. “I didn’t completely tell them everything. I didn’t incriminate myself.”
Matthews testified Tuesday that she used her feet to hold Jessica Palmer down while Smith cut her, and that she held onto Juan Palmer Jr. while Smith cut him. Matthews denied hitting Jessica Palmer with a baseball bat, testifying that it was Smith who wielded the bat.
Gold pointed out that Matthews has told “many different versions” of what happened in the park.
“I just want to know the truth,” Gold said to her. “You never tell the same story twice.”
Gold also asked Matthews if she was angry when she learned several months before the murders that Smith and Palmer had had a child — Paige — several years earlier. Gold noted that Smith and his then-wife had three children at the time.
“That was his child before me,” Matthews said of Paige. “That had nothing to do with me. It happened before my time. It did not make me mad.”
Sheriff’s detectives have testified previously at pretrial hearings that Smith implicated himself and Matthews in the attacks. Smith said he and Palmer went for a walk, during which he grabbed her hands while Matthews attacked her, according to an arrest affidavit.