Stephen Smith was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a prison murder. According to court documents Stephen Smith and Dwight Eaglin’ would plan and carry out the murder of correctional officer Darla Lathrem. Stephen Smith and Dwight Eaglin would be convicted and sentenced to death.
Stephen Smith 2021 Information
|Initial Receipt Date:||11/02/1993|
|Current Facility:||UNION C.I.|
|Current Release Date:||DEATH SENTENCE|
Stephen Smith More News
Although he never picked up the murder weapon, a jury decided Friday that Stephen V. Smith was the mastermind behind a prison escape attempt and homicide.
“The sledgehammer might have been in (Dwight) Eaglin’s hand, but Eaglin was in this defendant’s pocket,” State Attorney Steve Russell said during his closing argument.
Smith, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2003 slaying of corrections officer Darla Lathrem. He remained expressionless as the verdict was read. Eaglin already has been convicted for wielding the hammer and sentenced to die — the same penalty Smith could face.
Under Florida law, first-degree murder can be proven in two ways: The state has to show the murder was committed with premeditation or during another felony.
The 12-member jury, which deliberated for about three hours, validated all three of the prosecution’s theories.
The jury said the killing was committed with Smith’s premeditation and while he was participating in two felonies: escape and resisting an officer with violence. The state only had to prove one of the three theories to get the guilty verdict.
“I feel like I’m drunk, I’m so happy,” said Lathrem’s sister, Janet Best.
The penalty phase of Smith’s trial will begin Thursday.
The state added co-defendant Michael Jones to the list of witnesses who could testify next week, defense attorney Paul Sullivan said, suggesting the state has or will enter a plea bargain with Jones. Russell would not comment on where the Jones’ case stands.
Originally, Eaglin, Jones and Smith were all charged with two counts of murder for the killings of Lathrem and inmate Charles Fuston. Both were beaten to death with a sledgehammer. Lathrem, 38, was the only guard supervising a five-man work squad doing dormitory renovations the night of June 11, 2003.
Eaglin was convicted of both murders in February. The state dropped the second murder charge against Smith earlier this week.
During closing arguments, the defense and prosecution focused on the inmates’ plan. The state described it as calculated; the defense called it “crazy” and incomplete.
The three inmates were not ready to go the night of the murders, defense attorney Joseph Lombardo said. Eaglin went “berserk” because his mother had just died, killed two people and forced Smith and Jones to rush the escape attempt so he would not be caught.
Smith said in a video statement to investigators that he did not expect the escape to go down that night.
The three inmates threw several ladders together with brackets, nuts, bolts, washers and duct tape, Lombardo said.
They were going to go up and over two perimeter fences spaced 20 feet apart with that contraption, he said. Smith weighs 200 pounds.
“It sounds crazy that they thought they could do that,” Lombardo said.
When Eaglin hit Lathrem in the head a second time, Smith asked, ”‘What did you do that for?’” Lombardo said. “In his mind, the only thing they were going to do was knock her out.”
The inmates didn’t anticipate a padlock on the gate surrounding the dorm, officers standing around by the outside canteen or locked up inmates seeing the escape attempt through their windows.
Once outside, the trio had to drill more holes and do more assembly, he said. The ladder still collapsed.
“They weren’t supposed to go,” Lombardo said. “They hadn’t finished their plans.”
When the ladder broke, Smith went back inside, had something to drink and waited for officers to lock him up.
“Two people are dead. Go in and have a cup of tea,” State Attorney Russell said sarcastically.
“Crazy plan? Darla Lathrem’s dead. It’s a serious plan.”
Smith planned the escape for months, building the parts for the ladders, recruiting Eaglin to be the “muscle,” monitoring the gun truck that secures the outer perimeter of the prison, Russell said.
Smith lured Lathrem to the mop closet, where Eaglin attacked her and hid her body. The second Lathrem was knocked out, Smith went for her keys, he said.
“It was the defendant who set Lathrem up,” Russell said. “Actions speak louder than words. Don’t believe he didn’t know what was going on.”
Members of Lathrem’s family said they did not know until this week that Smith was the ringleader of the trio.
“It was discouraging to know he led her on the death march,” said the victim’s father, David Lathrem.
What is even more heinous is that Smith told investigators he thought Lathrem was a nice, sweet, good-hearted person, her sister, Carol Miller, said.