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Convicted murderer sentenced to 82 years

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at 11:21 am

LISA HOBBS – Contributor

A man who gunned down his estranged wife in the front yard of her parents’ Grundy County home was handed down a lengthy sentence on Monday.

John Wesley Smith, convicted of premeditated first degree murder of Carolyn Nicole Powell of Jasper, received a state-mandated life sentence. In Tennessee, life is considered 60 years with parole eligibility after serving 51.

However, Smith was also found guilty of attempted premeditated first degree murder of Gary Christopher Hurst, attempted second degree murder of Jerone Powell, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment of Betty Chrissy Powell and seven counts of reckless endangerment by use of a deadly weapon for Becky Jones and minor children Jacob Smith, Christopher Smith, Leo Birdwell, Noah Smith, Rachel Smith and Christopher Hurst.

While Circuit Court Judge Bradley Sherman had zero control over the life sentence, he did have discretionary sentencing power over the remaining penalties. He may consider a variety of aggravating or mitigating factors, but must stay within sentencing guidelines for the crime committed.

Sherman handed Smith the maximum sentence allowed by law in all but the reckless endangerment counts:

  • Twenty-five years for attempted premeditated first degree murder. He determined that time will be served concurrently. Guideline: 15 to 25 years.
  • Twelve years for attempted second degree murder. He determined that time will be served consecutively. Guideline: 8 to 12 years.
  • Ten years for aggravated assault. He determined that time will be served consecutively. Guidelines: 6 to 10 years.
  • Three years for each count of reckless endangerment. He determined that time will be served concurrently. Guidelines: 2 to 4 years.

Unlike concurrent sentences, which are served simultaneously, consecutive sentences follow one another and adds to the duration of the sentence.

Smith was 37 at the time of the crime. Without a parole board granting early release, he must serve a total of 82 years.

Prior to the judge’s decision, state Assistant District Attorney Steven Strain and defense Attorney Paul Cross outlined their desires.

“The state’s position would be that the reckless endangerment counts would run concurrent with first degree murder, but we are asking the court to add the two attempted murder counts and the aggravated assault count as consecutive to the defendant’s sentence,” said Strain.

Cross asked for concurrent sentences and pointed to Smith’s age, “At the time this occurred, Mr. Smith was 37 years old. He is now 42 years old. Thirty-seven plus 51, which is the amount of time he’ll have to serve if he behaves himself on the first degree murder charge, is 88. He will be 88 years old before he can be considered for parole.”

Cross called one character witness – Robert Lewis, who is the cousin of Smith. Lewis reported to the court that he never witnessed any violence between Smith and his wife. He described Smith as “easy going” and a “very peaceful man.”

In cross examination of the witness, Strain stated, “He wasn’t very peaceful that day, was he? He shot and killed Nicole, shot Jerone, [and] he shot Chris Hurst. That was not a peaceful day for him, was it?”

Lewis stated, “No, sir. That wasn’t a very peaceful day.”

The day was Sept. 23, 2018. Smith fatally shot Nicole in the front yard of her parents’ home in Altamont during a child’s birthday party at which six juveniles were present. He, then, shot and wounded Hurst (her boyfriend) and Jerone (her father). After pointing a gun at and threatened to shoot Betty (her mother), Jerone shot and wounded Smith.

Smith’s defense has 30 days to file an appeal of Judge Sherman’s sentence, which is only the beginning of the appeal process. The case will likely go before the Court of Criminal Appeals. After a decision is issued, either side may request permission to appeal that decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Considered the state’s court of last resort, the Supreme Court justices can decline to hear the case.

The Marion Tribune – November 30, 2023