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Today was the first time Benjamin Smith, accused of a murder charge, four attempted murder charges and four assault charges was seen in court since his March indictment. Two previous status hearings had gone on without him due to medical issues requiring him to be hospitalized in OHSU for an extended period of time.
Today he appeared virtually from the Inverness jail, where a person familiar with him stated he’s “aged like 10 years in 3 months”. He told the court clerk that he was still unable to get out of bed without assistance and was wheelchair bound for the duration of the hearing.
When the hearing started, Judge Greenlick, who has been appointed to oversee all matters in this case through trial, offered to delay the hearing to allow for Mr. Smith to be transported to appear in person, which he declined.
With the preliminaries out of the way, discussions started on setting trial date, noting the fact that he legally has a right to a trial within 120 days. His public defender, Mr. Sarre, requested a trial date in the April to May 2023 timeline.
The DA, Mr. Vasquez (who successfully prosecuted Alan Swinney in his assault trial last year) said April was an option, but strongly requested a trial be held much sooner, in no small part because the victims in the case all desire this case to be finished and closed sooner rather than later, and dragging this out for the next year would cause undue pain to them.
Unfortunately for the state, after the defense pointed out the slate of other murder cases he was defending, including cases resolving in June, August, September and November of this year, the judge agreed to the April 2023 timeline. It was pointed out that the state is prosecuting a 2 year old murder case in February of 2023, and the 13-14 month timeline for Mr. Smith’s trial is actually in line with the normal timeline for trials similar to this. Mr. Sarre’s full docket, combined with the innumerable court delays caused by the COVID pandemic combined to thwart the will of the victims.
From there, questions were raised about the special needs for this trial, including the use being approved of what is called a ‘special jury panel’. We’re uncertain at the moment if there’s a special definition for it in Oregon, but generally, this is a special jury that is made up of people who are more knowledgeable to address complicated issues or serious felonies [FindLaw Legal Dictionary]. The jury selection process is expected to also take longer than normal due to the nature of the crimes as well as the broad media attention being brought to the case.
The state has confirmed that 99% of the discovery has been provided to the defense already, absent some transcripts related to one of the victims that is still being processed, meaning that discovery concerns seem to be less of a concern than other cases we’ve covered here. The DA also anticipates not needing to bring forward ‘404(3) evidence’, a reference to statute where past actions aren’t allowed to be used as evidence of these charges. To borrow from the Alan Swinney case, this would be akin to a number of the social media posts Mr. Swinney made suggesting his premeditation to assault racial justice protesters, causing most of his posts to be disallowed as evidence to the jury.
At the current moment, the timeline is looking to be something along these lines:
- Status hearing on July 22nd at 1:30 PM
- Normal pre-trial motions by the defense due Sept 9th
- Response from the state due Sept 23rd
- Hearing on any of these motions on Oct 14th
- The Jury special panel is scheduled for April 7th in the morning
- ‘In Limine’, or pre-trial motions, the afternoon of the 7th
- The trial itself, scheduled for weekdays from April 17th to May 5th of 2023.
Of course, these dates are subject to change, and we will be keeping an eye out for any updates that may come about in the meantime.