Metro-East News

Man convicted of second-degree murder, acquitted of first-degree charges

Melvin Smith
Melvin Smith

After more than six hours, a St. Clair County jury found Melvin Smith guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Charles Harper.

Smith faces a sentence of probation up to 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced April 18. His co-defendant, Parry Gully, was acquitted of first-degree murder last month.

State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and assistant state’s attorneys Amanda Fisher and John Trippi prosecuted Smith. The case went to a jury Friday afternoon in Circuit Court in St. Clair County.

“We weren’t optimistic given the co-defendant’s acquittal, but the jury system is an amazing thing, and this jury worked very hard all week with complicated evidence and reached the best verdict they thought they could,” Kelly said. “They deserve our gratitude.”

“This was a just result under the circumstances,” said Patrick Sullivan, Smith’s lawyer. “Melvin asked for a fair and impartial jury to hear his story, and we are confident that they did. The jury has our deepest gratitude.”

Kelly recapped for the jurors in his closing argument the inconsistencies in Smith’s stories, his confession to a fellow inmate in the county jail, and text and Facebook messages that implicated Smith. Kelly also noted that Smith went to Minnesota after the murders. He also reminded jurors that there were pictures taken on Smith’s phone of a man prosecutors say is Gully carrying bolt-cutters, taken a block away from the murder scene and about a minute before the murders.

Gully and Smith, also known as Alonzo St. John, were accused of trying to rob a drug house at 805 N. 79th St. in East St. Louis of marijuana and more than $6,000 in cash on June 17, 2014. Sullivan told jurors that Smith went to the house with Gully, who intended to rob Harper with the two other men in house. Smith didn’t know about the plan, Sullivan contended.

Sullivan argued that Harper grabbed a gun, instead of handing over the keys to the padlock securing the room that contained the drugs and money. The accused robbers were met with gunfire from Harper, who was shot eight times by two different guns — a .45-caliber and a .380-caliber. Smith was also shot in the abdomen, but survived.

Smith testified that he wasn’t carrying a gun that day, but Sullivan said he didn’t believe him. Sullivan told jurors that Smith denied having the gun because he didn’t want the jury to think that he planned to rob the house. Sullivan told jurors that Smith was likely carrying the gun that day, but for self-protection, not for the robbery.

“It’s tough when you don’t believe the person you are defending,” Sullivan told the jury.

Both men left the area after the shooting. U.S. marshals found Smith living in Minnesota and Gully living in Texas.

Sullivan dismissed the testimony of William Grier, a convicted bank robber, who said Smith confessed to him in jail. Grier told the jury that Smith told him that he and Gully both had guns when they went into the house. Smith had to get off a “kill shot” to get out of the house, according to Grier’s testimony.

“He’s a liar,” Sullivan said. He told jurors Grier got details of the crime by reading Smith’s notes taken from the evidence.

He also told jurors that Grier threatened a bank teller, robbed the bank, took the money and went to a strip club for a “lap dance and a shot of heroin.”

Kelly told jurors he didn’t like Grier because he was a criminal, but that he was telling the truth.

During Gully’s trial, his attorney, Cathy MacElroy, told jurors that East St. Louis Police Officer Sylvester Woodhouse lied when he testified that he never searched Gully’s 1994 Infiniti, which was found parked blocks away from the murder scene days after the shooting. MacElroy found that Woodhouse ran license plate numbers that day — plates that were later located in the trunk of Gully’s car.

Closing arguments were completed Friday.

Circuit Judge Randy Kelley, who is not related to prosecutor Kelly, presided over the trial and instructed the jury before they began their deliberations late Friday morning.

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer