An East Feliciana Parish man accused in the slaying of an ex-girlfriend and her 3-year-old son — and the attempted killing of two of her young children — at a BREC park near Zachary in 2008 had several tense exchanges Sunday with an East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor.
Dominique Dantoni Smith had testified Saturday that he and Trendall Lashel Matthews, his girlfriend at the time, were leaving the Wal-Mart in Zachary on May 4, 2008, when Jessica Johnson Palmer, his former girlfriend, called from the McDonald’s restaurant across the street, said she could see Smith’s vehicle, asked who was in the car with him, and then asked to meet him in a park.
“Is that the story you want to go with?” Assistant District Attorney Darwin Miller asked Smith on Sunday when he resumed his testimony.
“It’s the truth,” Smith answered.
Miller then showed Smith three receipts dated May 4, 2008: the first from the Wal-Mart in Zachary with the time of 11:57 a.m., which is when Smith and Matthews checked out of the store; a second from a McDonald’s in Baker with the time of 12:32 p.m.; and a third from the McDonald’s in Zachary with the time of 12:46 p.m.
The McDonald’s receipts were recovered from the sport utility vehicle Palmer was driving May 4, 2008. The SUV was found May 5, 2008, in the parking lot at Doyle’s Bayou Park on Port Hudson-Pride Road. The bodies of Palmer and her son also were discovered in the park that day. Their throats had been cut.
Miller insisted the McDonald’s receipt from Baker shows Smith was lying when he told an East Baton Rouge Parish jury that Palmer called him from the McDonald’s in Zachary.
“It didn’t happen. You made that up,” Miller said.
Smith testified he met with Palmer and her children at Rollins Road Park in Zachary on May 4, 2008, but was not in Doyle’s Bayou Park that day.
The defense rested its case Sunday, and at the request of a majority of the jurors, state District Judge Tony Marabella recessed the trial until Monday for closing arguments, jury instructions and deliberations.
Smith, 31, of Wilson, is standing trial on two counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Jessica Palmer, 23, of Baker, and Juan Palmer Jr., 3. He also is being tried in the attempted first-degree murder of Paige Johnson, who is the child he had with Palmer, and Robbyn Palmer. Paige, whose throat also was slit in the attack, and Robbyn were left overnight in the park for dead. Paige and Robbyn were 4 years old and 6 months old, respectively, at the time.
Smith faces a sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder because prosecutors withdrew their notice of intent to seek the death penalty earlier this month after Paige’s family expressed concern about her welfare.
Matthews, 25, of Jackson in East Feliciana Parish, pleaded guilty to the same murder and attempted murder charges in 2011 in exchange for two life sentences. She had faced a possible death sentence.
Miller noted that Smith was offered the same deal and said, “You were treated the same, weren’t you?”
“I was given the option to plead guilty to a crime I didn’t commit,” Smith answered.
Matthews testified last week that Smith cut Jessica Palmer, Juan Jr. and Paige. She also said Smith hit Jessica Palmer with a baseball bat.
During his questioning of Smith on Sunday, Miller also noted that shortly before Smith was detained on May 5, 2008, Smith told Michelle Minor — who had a child with Smith and was living at his home at the time of the park attack — to tell anyone who asked that he and Minor and others were at a jogging track behind Lane Memorial Medical Center in Zachary on May 4, 2008.
“Did you elect to lie rather than tell the truth?” Miller asked.
“Correct,” Smith replied.
Smith also acknowledged he was not entirely truthful when questioned by East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s detectives.
“I did not tell the whole story,” he said. “The detectives helped me put a story together.”
Smith also acknowledged sending coded messages to Matthews while he and Matthews were in separate prisons.
“If you hadn’t done anything wrong, why would you write in code?” Miller inquired.
Smith explained that he was trying to save his marriage with his wife, the mother of three of his children. She ultimately divorced him in 2009.
Smith testified he has three other children: One with Minor, one with Palmer and one with a woman in Germany when he was stationed there with the U.S. Army. He said he had an “open marriage situation.”
Sheriff’s detectives 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.