Trial Review: Judge Grants Murder Defendant a Mistrial

A mistrial was declared after a weeklong murder trial for a defendant who was accused of killing a friend.

Leonard Smith, 33 is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing Leonte Butler, 26, in an alley on the 4000 block of South Capitol Street, SE in 2017. According to court documents, Smith and two other individuals  were seen on surveillance footage, covered in blood and changing clothes after the incident.

On Nov. 25, DC Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson granted the defense a mistrial.

Trial Breakdown:

During the trial, the jury heard from several experts and witnesses including one eyewitness, who was in the alley at the time of the murder, as well as a witness who attended a party with the victim, the defendant and the eyewitness on the night of the murder.

The witness to the murder, who the defense believed was an alternate suspect, said he did not commit the murder.

He also said he, Butler and Smith met a few months prior to the murder. He also said that he and Butler bonded because they both had speech impediments that caused them to stutter when they talked.

The witness testified that on the night of the murder the three men had been drinking and taking a cocktail of drugs.

He said Smith was making fun of Butler because of his stutter and that Butler and Smith got into a physical altercation where Butler accidentally hit Smith in the mouth causing him to bleed. The witness said that after Smith was hit he pulled out a knife and stabbed Butler more than 45 times.

Another witness said she drank and did drugs with the three men on the night of the murder.

She said that even though she was intoxicated, she heard the eyewitness talking to Butler. She said she over heard the eyewitness ask Butler if he had kids. When Butler responded no, the witness said she heard the eyewitness tell him, “if you don’t have any kids by now, you won’t,” then told Butler to “drink his last drink.” She said she thoroughly remembered the conversation because “even if you’re intoxicated you can still recall information accurately and I remember what was said.”

She also said she lived with the eyewitnesses’ cousin, who was also Smith’s girlfriend.

During closing arguments, defense counsel, Anthony Matthews, said the entire investigation was based on “hunches.”

He said the case’s information came from the eyewitness, who Matthews said,  became the prosecution and police’s source after tests showed no evidence of Smith’s DNA.

“No one even saw the blood on Mr. Smith’s hand, not even the eyewitness to the crime saw blood,” said Matthews.

Matthews said both the prosecution and the police department needed a witness to corroborate the “hunches.”

A DNA analyst told the jury that no blood could be found on the alleged murder weapon, which was a knife. She also said that many factors could have contributed to the fact that DNA was not found such as the small sample size taken from the knife, as well as environmental factors that could have caused the DNA to wither away.

During the prosecution’s closing arguments, the prosecutor said there were six reasons why Smith should be convicted of first-degree murder while armed.

He said those reasons include: the eyewitness’s testimony, the motive; video footage of Smith with what the prosecution called “a bloodied hand;” blood on the eyewitnesses’ jacket, which the prosecution said comes from Smith putting his hand on the witnesses’ back; and the possible murder weapon being discovered in Smith’s possession.

The prosecutor also said the eyewitness’ testimony was all the jury needed to convict Smith because the witness had proven himself credible.

Read more about Smith’s trial here.

This story was written by Jaylin Hawkins