ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The mother of a teenager now serving a life sentence for killing 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey appeared in court Tuesday as the judge considered what the state will need to prove and what evidence can be presented in her upcoming trial.
Crystal Smith is charged with tampering with evidence in connection with the case, which is a felony.
According to Smith’s arrest warrant, surveillance video shows her washing Fucci’s blue jeans the night he murdered Bailey. The warrant says the jeans and the drain in the sink later tested positive for blood.
Tuesday afternoon, Judge R. Lee Smith ruled an expert’s testimony stating it’s possible Smith’s washing of the jeans could have covered up DNA evidence will be permissible in court during the trial.
According to the defense’s motion, some samples taken from the jeans didn’t show sufficient DNA evidence. Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyst Brooke Hoover previously testified that could be because the pants had been washed. She testified again in the Smith’s felony hearing Tuesday.
“It’s possible that [the jeans] were washed, and that’s why I’m not getting any results,” Hoover said. “It’s possible it wasn’t there at all to begin with.”
Smith’s defense attorney Matt Kachergus argued that’s just a personal opinion, rather than an expert opinion; therefore, the jury shouldn’t hear it.
“That’s what the state’s trying to do...is bootstrap what they consider a lay opinion under the guise of expert testimony to present it to the jury as such,” Kachergus said.
Judge R. Lee Smith disagreed, deciding Hoover’s testimony about the possibility DNA evidence had been washed away can be brought up at trial.
The judge also considered a motion brought by the state asking that the defense be prevented from arguing that the state must prove Smith actually altered, destroyed, or impaired the DNA results in the case. Assistant state attorney Jennifer Dunton said it dosen’t matter if DNA evidence was actually destroyed or altered because either way, Smith was trying to interfere with the case by washing the jeans.
“What we’re charging is that she altered the jeans. Period,” Dunton said. “It dosen’t matter if she was successful or not successful.”
The defense pushed back.
“By granting the state’s motion, you’re denying the defense....one of its viable theories of defense by arguing that whatever conduct occurred, it didn’t impair the availability of this evidence,” Kachergus said.
The judge didn’t end up making a decision on the state’s motion Tuesday, saying he’d continue to take it under advisement.
Criminal defense attorney for former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter, who is not associated with the case, said regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, he thinks the prosecution has a strong case against Smith.
“The obvious is whether the DNA evidence or speculation, as they want to call it, or proof comes in is somewhat irrelevant,” he said. “If she’s washing blood out, you know she’s destroying evidence.”
Jury selection for Smith’s trial is set to begin Monday, and trial is set to begin next Wednesday; however, if jury selection goes longer than one day, it will continue the following Monday.
The maximum sentence for an evidence tampering conviction in Florida is five years in prison.
Bailey’s family members released the following statement through a spokesperson Tuesday:
“On this extremely difficult day, the second anniversary of our daughter’s and sister’s death, we attended a court hearing on the case against Crystal Smith. It was antagonizing to say the least, and anger ridden as she has continuously failed to take responsibility.
We were hoping that a plea deal would be reached. This obviously would be a benefit to our family so that we can take our next step forward in focusing on the life and legacy of Tristyn. We also strongly feel this would benefit the community, particularly the children who have had to endure these years of lost innocence replay over and over in their mind.
We say this, as we are fully confident in the State Attorney’s office. We say this, as we are fully confident in the evidence and investigation by the Saint Johns Sheriff’s Office. We say this, as we are sure that a just verdict would be reached. We say all of this, as it is time for our family and this community to heal.”