Confession offered as part of opening statements
Publication Salisbury Post
Date May 17, 2002
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Byline
Brief Confession offered as part of opening statements

Defendant's statement to police: 'I couldn't stop' stabbing victim

Defendant's statement to police: 'I couldn't stop' stabbing victim

By Jonathan Weaver, Salisbury Post

Margaret Leighann Martin was a golden-haired beauty with a room-brightening smile and a good helping of warm Southern hospitality.

Wesley Tobe Smith was a manic-depressive, drug-using painter friend of Martin's fianc/ whom Martin said gave her the creeps.

District Attorney Bill Kenerly launched Smith's trial Thursday detailing what he believed happened the last day the two saw each other.

On Sept. 12, 2001, Smith arrived at the eastern Rowan County home shared by Martin and her fianc/, Jason Scott Wagner. Wagner wasn't there.

Martin invited Smith in, then said she didn't want him around Wagner anymore.

Martin went into the kitchen and Smith went into a rage.

"Something came over me," Kenerly said, reading from a confession Smith gave detectives.

She was bent loading the dishwasher when he began stabbing her, Kenerly said. She dropped to the ground. He got on his hands and knees and continued the attack. Martin wrestled away and ran toward the bathroom, all the while begging him to stop. She got to the bathroom and swung a curling iron at him.

But, "I couldn't stop," Kenerly read from Smith's statement. When she finally stopped fighting, "I turned her over and cut her throat."

The estimated 53 stab wounds punctured all her vital organs except her heart. She died from loss of blood 15 minutes after the attack began.

In the first statement he gave detectives, Smith said he thought Martin had a thing for him.

Smith, 27, is on trial for his life in Rowan County Superior Court. He is charged with first-degree murder.

As they began investigating, detectives considered Wagner a suspect, Kenerly said during his opening statement. Wagner had found Martin's body the day of her killing.

But after questioning Smith, they cleared Wagner. Detectives noticed a bandage covering three of Smith's fingers. They also found shoes with tread similar to footprints left on the linoleum floor at the crime scene.

Rowan County Sheriff's Department crime scene technician Tommy Swing ended Thursday's testimony about the blood he found in the kitchen and through the house. Swing told the court he found several distinct sole depressions made in blood on the linoleum in the mobile home.

Smith's defense attorneys did not deny their client committed the murder. Instead they pointed out that before his arrest, Smith had no evidence of a violent past. Doctors had diagnosed him as a manic depressive and prescribed him several medications. He also suffered a head injury a few months before the killing, defense attorney Marshall Bickett told the jury.

Kenerly first called Jason Wagner to the stand. Immediately, Kenerly showed him a portrait of Martin and asked Wagner if he could identify her.

"That's Leighann," Wagner said in a hushed voice as he dropped his head.

Wagner said he knew Martin for about 11 years. The two had dated for a little less than two years.

Kenerly asked Wagner about previous convictions. Wagner said he had done time for breaking and entering, larceny and possession of stolen goods.Wagner said he was "an on and off (marijuana) user," and that he grew plants at his home in an indoor growing system.

Wagner met Smith through construction work. Smith was a painting subcontractor who worked with his father. And the two shared drugs. On at least one occasion, Wagner said, he gave Smith an ounce of marijuana.

Wagner said he came home for lunch on Sept. 11 -- the day of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington -- to see how Martin was doing.

"I was concerned for her," he told the court. "I know how she is about violence."

When he pulled up to the mobile home, he saw Smith's burgundy van sitting in the driveway. "It kind of bothered me," he said. "I wasn't too happy about it, but I wasn't going to show it."

Smith was sitting on the couch with Martin. The two were watching the day's events unfold on television. Smith asked Wagner if he had any jobs available. Wagner said he was working a siding job, and asked if Smith had any siding experience. Smith said no, then left.

Wagner said he left home the next morning for the siding job on Dunn's Mountain Road. Wagner left work about 4 p.m. and stopped and bought two beers. He went to his cousin's home and the two went hunting for arrowheads along High Rock Lake. About an hour later, Wagner said he headed home.

"When I entered the driveway ... the front door was open ... it caught me off guard," Wagner said.

Normally, Martin worked in the yard or sat on the couch waiting for Wagner, he said. This day he couldn't find her. He called her name several times, but got no response.

Then he walked into the kitchen. "Blood was everywhere," he said.

He found her in the doorway of the bathroom. "I approached her and saw she had something around her neck," Wagner said. "I shook her and said her name ... I freaked out."

The curling iron cord had been wrapped around Martin's neck. The phone was near her on the floor -- dead. The couple's pistol rested about a foot from Martin's body, Wagner said.

Wagner said he drove his motorcycle to his mother's home to call 911. His mother followed him back to the mobile home.

"We really couldn't tell what happened," he said. "Her hands were crossed across her chest."

On cross-examination, Bickett focused on Wagner's lengthy criminal history. He noted convictions for escaping from jail and assaulting a government official along with the breaking and entering conviction and an assault on a female charge for an incident involving a former girlfriend.

Bickett also questioned Wagner about his involvement in drugs.

"Were you growing marijuana?"

"Yes sir," Wagner replied.

But Wagner said he didn't smoke it often.

"So you're saying you grew the marijuana as an experiment and to give to friends?" Bickett asked.

"You're right. Correct," Wagner said.

Martin's mother, Tonia Helms, testified about two incidents in which Martin told her Smith frightened her.

During the summer of 2001, "she had told me she didn't like going to job sites because Tobe was there," Helms said. Martin said Tobe Smith gave her the creeps, Helms said.

And on the Saturday before Martin's killing, she said Smith "had been coming down there when Jason wasn't there," Helms said. Martin told her mother she was going to tell him to stop coming around and to stop hanging out with Jason Wagner, Helms said.

"I told her to get Jason to do it," Helms said. "She said 'I'm not scared, I can tell him.' "

Kenerly also called two men who shared a Morgan Road mobile home with Smith, his wife and three kids.

Michael Page said Smith slept during days and took a lot of pills. "There toward the end, it was pretty bad."

He said he saw Smith the day of the murder with injured fingers. He asked what happened, and Smith said he was attacked at a convenience store phone booth. Page also identified slip-on sneakers Smith often wore around the mobile home. He testified that he found a blood-covered T-shirt in a trash pile at the mobile home.

Anthony Hummel, who owned the Morgan Road home, said Smith used "any type of drug he could" and stayed in his room a lot. Smith also had a crack cocaine problem -- the reason doctors admitted to Charter Pines Hospital, Hummel said.

Testimony continues today.

Contact Jonathan Weaver at 704-797-4266 or jweaver@ salisburypost.com.