Smith County Sheriff Candidate's Investigative Credentials Questioned
By ADAM RUSSELL
A 1999 murder case is at the center of debate about one Smith County sheriff candidate's investigative credentials.
After a February debate featuring the candidates for Smith County sheriff,
Troup Police Chief Pat Hendrix questioned an answer by candidate Larry Smith regarding Smith's role in the investigation into a 1999 double murder that led to the conviction and execution of Newton Anderson.
Candidates were Bobby Garmon, Chris Green, Donn Rust and Smith. Green and Smith, the top two vote-getters in the May Republican primary, face each other in the July 31 runoff. The winner becomes the next sheriff because there is no Democratic candidate.
During the debate, Smith mentioned the Newton Anderson case when answering a question from Grassroots America -- We the People moderator about the "most serious crime you have ever yourself, personally investigated."
Smith said he had "worked" between six and eight capital murder cases during his 34-year career, including the Anderson case. Anderson was executed in 2007.
Hendrix, who was with the Smith County Criminal Investigation Division in 1999 and the case's lead investigator, told Green and Rust after the debate he did not recall Smith ever being on the crime scene.
Green, a retired 20-year Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden, referenced Hendrix's comment and called Smith's role in the case into question during a later candidate debate. Garmon, a 30-year member of the sheriff's office, also called Smith's presence at the crime scene into question after Smith answered the question at the initial debate.
Hendrix made two public information requests with the Smith County District Attorney and Smith County Sheriff's Office after Green used Hendrix's comment at the event. Green has since made numerous statements claiming Smith had overstated his role in numerous East Texas cases, including the 2010 church arsons.
Hendrix's incident report details the arrival of emergency responders and crime scene investigators to the scene about 9 p.m. March 4, 1999, and throughout the early hours of the investigation. The double homicide also involved a fire investigation because the victims' home was set ablaze to cover up the crime.
The report identified Anderson as the lead suspect and located the victim's vehicle that was stolen from the scene, but does not mention Smith. Hendrix said he did not receive the requested information from the district attorney's office.
District Attorney Matt Bingham said his office was first notified by Hendrix's office about the request on June 5. Bingham's office contacted Hendrix's office on June 21 to request a $100 deposit because the case file includes thousands of documents in 15 to 20 boxes, he said.
On July 10, Bingham's office received the deposit and began working to fulfill the request within 10 days, which is required by law.
Smith, who was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent at the time, forwarded an investigation report to the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
showing he was at the scene 15 hours after the initial response, and that he found pertinent evidence in the case. He said his presence was requested by then-District Attorney Jack Skeen and the FBI because of his expertise in arson investigations. Bingham said Smith still is called to assist investigations.
The report indicates Smith initiated an interior and exterior examination of the home.
In the report, Smith notes an electric kitchen clock otherwise undamaged by the fire fell and stopped at 5:54 p.m. Smith said within the scope of the case the clock was important because Anderson was seen by witnesses shortly after that time.
Smith also testified in the prosecution of Anderson, according to court transcripts.
Hendrix maintains he never saw Smith at the scene and was never handed a report with information Smith gathered. He said he made the information requests to refresh his memory because the case occurred more than a decade ago and involved many investigators and agencies.
Hendrix said he made the initial statement to Green and Rust because he felt Smith was blatantly taking credit for investigative work for which he did not participate.
"He may have investigated the (1999) arson, but I didn't have that information in front of me," he said. "Should I have waited to make a comment? Probably, but I felt confident he wasn't at that crime scene after reading my report."
Green said he has never questioned Smith's presence at the Anderson scene and other cases Smith has mentioned in public. But he said Smith has "embellished his role to give the perception he solved those cases or played a much more important role than he actually did.
"Per (Hendrix's) case file, (Smith) wasn't part of the initial, the main guts, the body, of that investigation. It was already accomplished," Green said. "He just came in after the fact, mopped up, and said, 'The fire started here.'"
Determining that the crime scene was arson when it was clearly a double murder did not break the case, Green said.
Smith said the statements were politically motivated to cast doubts about his law enforcement record. He said the lead investigator's job is to collect all the evidence and ensure the district attorney has all the facts to show guilt or innocence. Smith said it was "irresponsible for (Hendrix) to not know I was on his crime scene."
He added, "I have not embellished a thing. (Green) should be talking about his record, not mine."
Green has mentioned Hendrix as a person he might approach for a position in his administration. Hendrix said his motivations were not political because Smith also approached him about possibly joining his administration, saying he would "be an asset to the team."
Smith said he talked to Hendrix about the sheriff's office but did not suggest he would consider Hendrix for hire.