SAPULPA — A Creek County murder trial in which the defendant claims he killed his step-daughter’s boyfriend in self defense began Tuesday. The first witness to take the stand Wednesday — the mother of the deceased — deviated from her testimony at a preliminary hearing, where she had claimed the defendant fired several shots at her son, before approaching and shooting him a final time.
In September 2020 — 13 months ago — Kenneth Ray Smith was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after fatally shooting Tyris Boyd during a Labor Day party at Smith’s house. At the time of the shooting, Smith was evicting Boyd after a weekend of physical confrontations involving Smith’s step-daughter, Jasalynn Snell.
Smith claims Boyd was reaching into the trunk of his mother’s car where he says Boyd had placed firearms earlier that day, but no witnesses saw a gun in Boyd’s hand when he was shot, and no gun was found during the crime scene investigation.
During testimony Wednesday, Theresa Williams — Boyd’s mother — was the trial’s first witness for Creek County Assistant District Attorney Steve Rouse. She told the court that she arrived at Smith’s home before the shooting to help her son pack and that she was concerned for her own safety owing to the presence of Smith’s brother and another man.
In responding to Rouse’s questions, Williams said Smith began shooting her son and then walked around the car and shot him a final time.
But during cross-examination by Ben Fu, Smith’s lawyer, Williams balked when the defense attorney asked if she really witnessed Smith relocate closer after firing an initial round of shots.
“I’m not going to say yes, but I’m not going to say no,” Williams said.
Fu then pressed Williams about the ambiguity of her present testimony and inconsistencies in her initial statement to law enforcement. The interaction ended with Williams crying on the witness stand.
“You’re torturing me up here,” Williams told Fu.
The exchange was markedly different than Williams’ testimony during a “stand your ground” hearing Aug. 19. At that time, Williams unequivocally testified that Smith shot Boyd at two separate moments, first from behind Smith’s truck while Boyd was located on the passenger side of Williams’ car. Williams said Boyd then walked around to the driver side of her car to shield his mother and slumped into her lap while she was in the driver’s seat. Williams then testified that Smith also came around to the driver side and shot Boyd a final time, an action that Rouse said constituted first-degree murder, not self defense.
Smith and Fu maintain that Williams is lying about the alleged second round of shots. Fu said Wednesday that Williams’ refusal to reaffirm her story under oath “doesn’t work” in a murder trial.
In Oklahoma, persons convicted of first-degree murder face the death penalty or life in prison, with or without parole.
Pre-trial issues, eight months in jail
A myriad of issues impeded this case from reaching trial over the last six months. Fu, Smith’s attorney, initially filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of Oklahoma’s “stand your ground” statute, but Judge Laura Farris denied the motion after an April 19 hearing because she said Boyd “had no immediate, if any, access to a weapon” when he was shot, making “Smith’s use of force not protected or immunized by the [stand your ground] statue.” Farris set a June 14 trial date for Smith.
During a discovery conference June 8, Fu claimed Rouse violated the requirements set forth in Brady v. Maryland by not notifying him that the prosecutor had met with Smith’s neighbors — Misty and Ben Butler — who overheard the Labor Day shooting while trimming trees at the front of their home.
Rouse, the Creek County assistant district attorney, first met with the Butlers on June 4. However, Misty Butler had called and sent a statement to the Creek County Sheriff’s Office within days of the shooting. Fu said he was not notified of Misty Butler’s statement or that Rouse had met with the Butlers.
Based on the potential testimony that the Butlers could provide a separate judge — Douglas W. Golden — granted a second “stand your ground” hearing, where Golden could vacate Farris’ decision from the original hearing and issue a new ruling. Additionally, Golden reduced Smith’s bond from $1 million to $50,000, which was then posted by Smith’s family on June 9. Smith had been in jail for eight months awaiting trial, which Golden mentioned when deciding to reduce bail.
Following the second “stand your ground” hearing, which was held Aug. 19 (and continued until Sept. 7), Golden chose not to overrule Farris’ original decision, which denied Smith’s motion to dismiss the case.
‘I can’t be at peace until I know he’s gone’
During opening statements Wednesday, Rouse and Fu outlined their respective cases to the jury, which had been impaneled Tuesday. Rouse explained that on the morning of Sept. 7, 2020, Boyd and Snell had engaged in a physical altercation.
Fu said that Smith’s cousin — Tamara Wooding, who was working remotely that morning — notified Smith of the couple’s fight upon him waking up. Smith and others told Boyd that he needed to leave the property. Snell left Smith’s residence with her mother.
Rouse said Boyd called his mother, Theresa Williams, to help him pack his belongings from Smith’s residence. Arguments escalated inside the house, where Fu said Boyd brandished a gun at Wooding and Smith.
After Boyd had packed up his belongings, an argument between Smith and Boyd escalated outside. Fu told the jury that Smith believed Boyd was reaching into the trunk of his mother’s vehicle, where multiple people alleged that Boyd had previously placed a duffel bag containing firearms. At that point, Fu said, Smith started shooting.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Rouse said Smith committed first-degree murder based on the alleged second action of approaching Boyd following the first round of shots.
“Mr. Smith committed this crime and did it without justification,” Rouse told jurors.
Fu said Boyd had a history of violence. Fu read a text message sent to Williams from Snell — Boyd’s girlfriend and Smith’s adult step-daughter — that said, “Tyris threatened to beat me up in front of my kids. I can’t take this anymore.”
Williams took the stand following opening statements, first answering questions from Rouse.
Williams said she was scared for her safety following her arrival around 11 a.m., because there were two men with Smith outside the residence whom she did not recognize. The two men were Smith’s brother and the brother’s friend.
Williams said she texted Snell, who had left the house with her mother: “There’s two extra guys. I don’t feel safe.”
Williams testified that Boyd and Smith’s argument started outside because Boyd said to Smith, “Why are you calling people over here?”
After Williams testified about the shooting, Rouse passed the witness to Fu for cross-examination.
“You would do anything for your son. Does that include lying under oath?” Fu asked Williams.
Fu reminded Williams of her past statements during prior testimonies and then asked if she believed there was any difference.
“I can’t say there is a difference,” Williams responded. “I don’t know.”
Fu asked Williams if Boyd had anger issues, to which she initially said, “Not towards me,” before admitting that he did. Williams said she and Snell discussed that Boyd had a “jail mentality,” which Williams described as Boyd always being in a “defensive” state.
Fu read several more texts to the jury in which Snell expressed concern about Boyd’s anger.
In one text message, about a week prior to the shooting, Williams asked Snell whether Boyd had promised to leave Smith’s home by that weekend. Snell replied, “He said he was but idk how promising it is, he feels like he runs the household like if I do anything he’d kill us all no questions asked… I’m literally scared for our life! Never know if I’m going to get beat up threatened to be killed sometimes it’s a good day but I’ve had to many bad days… I can’t be at peace until I know he’s gone.”
Fu asked Williams if these texts from Snell and the threats from Boyd on the day of the shooting made her concerned that Boyd might try and hurt Snell or their family.
“I can’t say I was worried he would hurt them, no,” Williams said. “It probably sounds crazy, but I know he wasn’t going to hurt them.”
Fu then asked her to clarify her testimony about Smith’s movements during the shooting. Williams told Fu she had her head down, clutching the steering wheel as the shots rang out and that she did not see Smith move, but that she heard another shot.
After Fu pressed her, and Williams began to cry on the witness stand, Judge Golden called for a break in the courtroom. After the break, Williams returned to the stand, but shortly after, the judge excused her.
During an earlier courtroom recess, Khalib Springer — a friend of Boyd’s who was at the scene of the shooting — spoke to Rouse and Golden and agreed to testify. However, Rouse chose not to call Springer to the stand. Four witnesses for Smith’s defense testified on April 19 that they saw Springer remove an object from Boyd’s person after the shooting.
Several officers who interviewed Smith on the day of the shooting testified before the jury Wednesday. All the officers were called by Rouse, the prosecutor.
Deputy Eric Tilley from the Creek County Sheriff’s Office testified that Smith was cooperative with information and names of people at the scene. Tilley also testified that Smith told him at the crime scene that he shot Boyd in self defense, as he thought Boyd was reaching for a gun.
Randall Arnold — a Sapulpa Police Department patrolman — testified that Williams told him at the crime scene that she believed Khalib Springer was taking Boyd to the hospital in his car, a gold Toyota Corolla.
Ryan Matthias, of the Creek County Sheriff’s Office, said Smith’s neighbor, Misty Butler, contacted him “a day or two” after Labor Day and that he had her type out a statement.
Wednesday’s final witness was Marty Wilson, a special agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Rouse asked if Smith told him during their interview how many shots he fired at Boyd, to which Wilson testified, “He couldn’t tell me. He just said he shot a bunch of times.”
Wilson said he considered the number of shots fired to be fairly common in such a scenario.
The trial is scheduled to continue Thursday at the Creek County Courthouse.