Kenneth Ray Smith not guilty
After receiving a not-guilty verdict in his murder trial, Kenneth Ray Smith hugs one of the jurors, Don Balenti, outside the Creek County Courthouse on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (Joe Tomlinson)

After only 20 minutes of deliberation, a Creek County jury found Kenneth Ray Smith not guilty of first-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter, ruling that the fatal Labor Day 2020 shooting of Tyris Boyd occurred in self-defense.

When the jury’s decision was announced, Smith and members of his family began crying. Defense attorney Ben Fu put his arm around Smith with a look of relief. As Smith’s grandmother walked out of the courtroom with assistance from relatives, she repeated through tears, “God is good, God is good.”

After the jurors were excused by Creek County District Judge Douglas W. Golden, Smith and Fu thanked them in the courtroom. Many shed tears themselves, hugged Smith and expressed sympathy for Smith and his family.

“I would have done the same thing,” one juror told Smith. “You had to protect your family,” another said.

Juror: Quick decision reached unanimously

Smith spent the first eight months after his September 2020 arrest in the Creek County Jail, owing to a $1 million bond set by a different judge. Following a series of preliminary hearings where Fu accused prosecutors of withholding evidence, Smith’s bail was lowered and he was able to bond out in June.

The case’s trial began Tuesday, Oct. 19, and lasted less than one week, with Fu calling into doubt the testimony of Boyd’s mother, who had claimed Smith shot her son a second time in a manner that would not have constituted self-defense.

After the not-guilty verdict, Fu told Smith in the courthouse parking lot that the 20-minute deliberation marked the fastest he had ever seen a jury reach its decision. Several jurors approached Smith and his family in the parking lot, embracing them and expressing sympathy for Smith’s lengthy incarceration before trial.

One juror, Don Balenti, told NonDoc that the jury reached a verdict quickly without much hesitation.

“There was never really a pause in anyone’s vocabulary, in anyone’s mannerisms,” Balenti said. “It was deliberate.”

As soon as the jurors went into the jury room, Balenti said one juror immediately asked others of their collective opinion: “First degree murder, guilty or not guilty?”

“Not guilty,” the jurors said unanimously, according to Balenti.

‘Why are we here?’

Kenneth Ray Smith not guilty
After being found not guilty of murder or manslaughter, Kenneth Ray Smith embraces his wife, Manuella Golden, outside of the Creek County Courthouse on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (Joe Tomlinson)

To begin closing arguments Monday, Creek County Assistant District Attorney Steve Rouse argued to the jury that Smith’s actions were premeditated and showed “malice and forethought.”

“The defendant shooting multiple times showed that he had malice and forethought,” Rouse told the jury.

Rouse argued that Boyd was not a trespasser, as he had been staying at Smith’s residence, and that he was moving his belongings prior to the shooting.

“The victim was in the process of leaving the residence as instructed,” Rouse said.

Fu began his closing arguments by asking a rhetorical question to the jury, attacking the validity of the prosecution’s evidence: “Why are we here?”

Fu stated that putting Smith in prison for life based on the prosecution’s evidence would be “abhorrent to the concept of justice.”

Fu spoke to the inconsistency of the testimony of Theresa Williams — Tyris Boyd’s mother — stating, “We cannot convert her grief into facts in a courtroom.”

Williams had claimed at a preliminary hearing that Smith had fired multiple shots at Boyd from one location before moving closer to Boyd and shooting him one last time, killing him. On Wednesday, Fu cross-examined Williams and asked if she really saw the second round of shots.

“I’m not going to say yes, but I’m not going to say no,” Williams told Fu during testimony.

Fu told jurors that her testimony — as the primary witness for the prosecution — could not be trusted.

“It’s not just a lie,” Fu told the jury. “It’s perjury.”

Fu aimed at Rouse’s credibility, criticizing the prosecutor for not calling Khalib Springer, Boyd’s friend. Witnesses testified they saw Springer approach Boyd after the shooting and that they believed Springer removed a gun from Boyd’s body.

“I guess this jury didn’t need to hear from Khalib Springer,” Fu said sarcastically. “That might be bad.”

Rouse exercised an option to provide a rebuttal argument following Fu’s closing remarks. Rouse argued that “there is plenty of evidence to [convict] without considering [Williams’] testimony at all.”

Rouse argued to the jury that Boyd did not return fire at Smith because he did not have a weapon.

“If Boyd was such a bad guy, why didn’t he return fire?” Rouse asked. “Because he didn’t have a gun.”

But the jury did not buy Rouse’s argument and found Kenneth Ray Smith not guilty.

“We’re very thankful for the jury taking their time and giving this case the consideration it deserves. We’re so thankful they got it right,” Fu said. “Ray is going to try to rebuild the rest of his life after this incident. Although we are certainly not happy that someone had to lose their life, we’re so happy that justice was served today and that the jury got the right answer.”

Past coverage of the Kenneth Ray Smith trial