Daphne man’s mental state during quadruple homicide takes center stage at hearing

Judge sends capital murder charges to grand jury, delays ruling on request for psychiatric evaluation
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:36 PM CDT
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BAY MINETTE, Ala. (WALA) - There is no dispute over who caused the deaths of a Daphne couple, their grandson and a family friend during a February pickaxe-and-gun attack.

The couple’s own grandson confessed to the killings. The issue is defendant Jared Tarant Smith-Bracy’s mental state.

Defense attorney Joseph Pilcher said Monday that his client would plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He asked Baldwin County Circuit Judge Scott Taylor to order a psychiatric evaluation.

“We believe that coming to right now, there was a break in his normal behavior,” he said outside the courtroom. “I think you heard that today. There were family members who said he was normal - this was absent his normal behavior. This was not his normal behavior.”

Taylor found prosecutors had presented enough evidence to send four capital murder charges to a grand jury for possible indictment. He delayed a ruling on the mental health evaluation until law enforcement authorities are further along in their investigation.

The deaths occurred on Feb. 22 at the Lake Forest subdivision home that Smith-Bracy, 21, shared with his grandparents. According to testimony at Monday’s preliminary hearing, Leonard Smith, 80, was face-down in the master bedroom of the home on Melanie Loop with fatal chop wounds.

Three others did in the backyard: Smith’s wife, Barbara Smith; their grandson, 27-year-old Jeremy Smith; and 71-year-old family friend Sheila Glover, 71. Testimony indicates that the defendant attacked with a pickaxe and also emptied a Glock pistol – as many as 13 shots.

Jason Vannoy, a Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office investigator who was a Daphne detective at the time of the February slayings, testified that Smith-Bracy confessed to the killings after initially claiming he was the victim.

Vannoy said detectives pressed him for a reason.

“I had to get them before they got me,” Vannoy quoted the defendant as saying.

Vannoy testified under cross-examination that some family members told police that Bracy-Smith had begun acting erratically in the days leading up to killings.

“They essentially felt like he had gone crazy,” he said.

According to Vannoy’s testimony, the killings occurred shortly after Smith-Bracy bonded out of the city jail, where police had taken him on a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge alleging that he broke the family home’s front door and a bedroom during following an argument over the dishes.

Vannoy testified that a friend bailed out Smith-Bracy and that the defendant grabbed his friend’s Glock pistol from the console and ran into the house. The friend told police that he heard gunshots soon after, the investigator testified.

During cross-examination, Pilcher asked about the suicide of his client’s father.

“We think that there’s evidence there that said his dad was approximately his age committed suicide because of paranoid schizophrenia,” he said after the hearing. “I think that we’re gonna find some other things out there that lend itself to paranoid schizophrenia.”

Baldwin County Chief Assistant District Attorney Teresa Heinz told reporters that people’s typical reaction to an incident such as this is that no one in his right mind would do such a thing.

Smith-Bracy faces possible execution, if convicted. But Heinz said prosecutors have not even decided whether to seek the death penalty.

“We’re way too early in the game for that,” she said.