22 year-old Sylva native, Mandi Smith, was murdered early Tuesday, May 18.
Shortly after midnight, a 911 call was placed at 1:18 am reporting that a woman was dead after being shot. The call came from a townhouse community in the Rough Branch area of the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
According to the public information officer for the tribal public safety communications center, Ray Stamper, the victim was identified as Mandi Smith. The investigation was handed over to the F.B.I. because the Federal Bureau of Investigation has jurisdiction over the Reservation since it is Federal land.
On Thursday, May 20, Smith’s boyfriend, and father of her child, James Ernest Lespier, was arrested and charged with her murder.
According to Federal Documents filed with Criminal Complaint, Lespier called Cherokee Indian Police Dispatch and immediately stated, “Mandi is dead.” After police arrived on scene a blood covered, Lespier explained to officers that Mandi had retrieved the gun during a dispute between then two and had fired the weapon at him. He then voluntarily admitted that the gun fired while he struggled to get the gun away from the victim. He claimed that Smith accidently fired the gun, shooting herself, while holding the gun behind her back in attempts to keep it away from Lespier.
Lespier voluntarily went with Cherokee police to the station for further questioning.
A search of the crime scene revealed rounds of ammunition at random points within the home, consistent with Lespier’s statement. Police also found a 12-gauge shotgun on a couch next to where the body was found, as well as what is confirmed to be the murder weapon, a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver.
Although the gun appeared to be untouched after it was fired, and was found under the victims leg, an autopsy performed at Harris Regional Hospital determined that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back of the head/neck.
The medical examiners concluded that Smith’s wound pattern was inconsistent with Lespier’s story, and could not have been caused by the victim, which provided law officials with the evidence that ultimately lead to Lespier’s arrest. If convicted of the murder, Lespier faces up to life in prison.
Smith graduated from Smoky Mountain High School in May of 2006 and then from Southwestern Community College in 2008. Smith worked in the nursing network as a home health attendant.
She was the mother to a 3-year-old son, Draven Wade. Smith and Lespier had been dating for several years and had even hosted a get together at their home only a few hours before the incident occurred.
Smith is remembered for being a beautiful, warm, loving individual who was taken from this earth too soon. Smith’s funeral was held Saturday, May 22 in the Chapel of Appalachian Funeral Service at 2:00 p.m.