Cherokee man pleads not guilty to girlfriend’s murder

A Cherokee man pleaded not guilty on Monday, June 7 to the murder of his girlfriend.
James Ernest Lespier, 31, is charged with one count of murder in the death of 22-year-old Erien Amanda Smith, known as Mandi to friends and family.

At the defendant’s arraignment hearing in Asheville, Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell set an Aug. 9 trial date.

Lespier called 911 early on May 18 to report that Smith was dead at his home on Crowe Drive on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, according to federal documents. He told officers that Smith and their young son had returned to his home after a gathering with friends when the pair got into an argument.

He said Smith produced a gun and began shooting at him. As he tried to wrestle the gun from her, he said it discharged and killed her. A medical examiner later determined Smith’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back of the head and neck area, a wound that was inconsistent with Lespier’s account, documents state.

Lespier is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Smith, who lived in Sylva, was not a member of the tribe.