CHAUVIN, La. - A Chauvin man is guilty of murdering his longtime girlfriend and toddler daughter, a Terrebonne jury determined Tuesday.
Tyari Smith Sr., 34, was arrested in January 2010 for shooting Maria Chavez, 26, and Tyari Smith Jr., 2, multiple times, police said at the time. The pair were found dead in the bedroom of their home on La. 56 near the Smithridge Bridge with a mattress covering their bodies.
Testimony for the trial began on April 18 and lasted until Tuesday morning. On Tuesday evening, Smith was found guilty of two counts first-degree murder after a jury deliberated for about 90 minutes.
“I thought the jury got it right,” said Assistant District Attorney Chris Erny, who prosecuted the case. “There was overwhelming evidence, and they got it right.”
Smith now faces mandatory life in prison for both counts and will be sentenced in July by Judge Randy Bethancourt.
The death penalty, a possibility in all first-degree murder cases, was taken off the table by prosecutors out of deference to the victims' family's wishes. He is currently incarcerated in the Terrebonne Parish jail, serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to drug charges in St. Tammany Parish.
As the verdict was read, Smith's mother, Lisha Price, hung her head. Smith was soon handcuffed by a bailiff and sat there for several minutes, waiting for the proceedings to end. With his hands shackled behind his back, his attorney's assistant wiped tears away from the defendant's eyes with a handkerchief.
“He's disappointed, I'm disappointed and his family's disappointed,” said Bernard Levy, Smith's attorney.
During Erny's closing arguments, he pointed out that several witnesses placed Smith at the house when the shootings happened. Chavez and Tyari Jr. were set to leave for California, Erny said, as Smith was to plead guilty that same month to the aforementioned drug charges.
“(Chavez) was leaving,” Erny said, refuting Smith's family's testimony that said she was just going to the West Coast to visit. “You don't go to visit for two to five years. You're moving.”
Nobody else was home, Erny said, and Smith left after the shootings happened, only to be found on St. Matt Street in Montegut later that day.
“He fled. That's what guilty people do,” Erny said.
During his arguments, Levy insinuated that Smith's great uncle, Lee Outley, may have been the one who killed the pair. During his opening arguments, Levy talked about Outley's “lustful disposition” toward Chavez. His testimony, Levy said, also did not add up.
“If you're completely innocent and not involved, do you take that gun and throw it in the bayou?” Levy said, referring to Outley's testimony that he threw a gun found at the family's house the next week into a drainange canal.
Levy also did his best to poke holes in the testimony of convicted felon and inmate Danny Verret, who said on the stand Monday that Smith told him about the shooting while they were cellmates in 2010. Levy said repeatedly that Verret, 32, was testifying in an attempt to have his seven-year sentence for aggravated second-degree battery reduced. He also said Verret would frequently say his memory was “hazy” if something he said turned out not to be true.
“Mr. Verret is a liar,” Levy said. “He's trying to get you to bite on his lies so he can get out of jail.”
Levy later held up a sign that said, in big bold letters, “For sale,” saying Smith's life was being sold to help Verret. The move visibly angered Erny, and the sign was later taken away by Bethancourt for the rest of Levy's closing arguments.
Erny refuted both those claims, again saying all the evidence pointed to Smith, and that Verret was simply repeating what he was told before.
“Verret was not there. He does not know what happened. He only knows what Mr. Smith told him,” Erny said.
Prior to closing arguments, Price took the stand, describing the drive she, her daughter and a friend took when they were heading home the afternoon of the killings. In her testimony, Price said she had to pull over several times as police cars sped down East Main Street and La. 56. At the time, she said she didn't know what was going on.
“We tried to make assumptions, but our assumptions were incorrect,” Price said.
After the trial, Smith's family declined to comment. A representative, who asked not to be identified, asked “for prayers for the Chavez and Smith families.”
Levy said his client will “certainly be appealing his verdict” and that it will be held by the Louisiana Appellate Project.
Staff Writer Eric Heisig can be reached at 857-2202 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HeisigHCDC.