Sen. Virgil Smith to stand trial for shooting at ex-wife

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A judge ruled Thursday that state Sen. Virgil Smith will stand trial for allegedly beating his ex-wife and shooting at her with an assault rifle, and riddling her car with bullets, after she showed up at his house and found a naked woman in his bed.

Senator Virgil Smith walks into 36th District Courtroom of Judge Michael Wagner for his preliminary hearing.

36th District Court Judge Michael Wagner rejected the argument by Smith's attorney Godfrey Dillard, who invoked the Castle Doctrine and insisted his client had a right to protect himself against potential harm inside his home.

"So are you suggesting if someone has an argument with someone at their home, that a person can grab a gun and start shooting?" Wagner said before binding the case over for trial.

Wagner also pointed out that Smith let the ex-wife into his house. "Those are not the actions of someone who feels he's in danger," he said."

Five witnesses testified in the hearing, that was marked by numerous objections, and admonishments from the judge to onlookers in the courtroom who made comments,

Smith's ex-wife, Anistia Thomas, who said she continued an intimate relationship with Smith after their brief marriage ended, described the alleged encounter..

"I went to his bedroom window, because I noticed that it was open. I knocked on the window, and I say 'Kai' (Smith's middle name)," Thomas said. "Then he comes to the window … he meets me at the side door. He opens the door; he lets me in.

"He said 'Tatiana's here,' " Smith said, referring to Smith's girlfriend, Tatiana Grant. "I walked into the bedroom; I see Tatiana in the bed. I went up to the bed, I ask her if they are sleeping together. She sat up and she said, 'no.'

"I snatched the sheet off of her. (I saw) that she was naked. At that point, Kai grabbed me … we get into an altercation.

"He pulls on me … we wrestle … he punches me in the face a few times. After falling into the TV, he rams my head into the floor. After that, he puts his right arm into the back of my neck. It basically stopped my breathing at that point. He said he'd let me up if I leave.

"He kept punching me throughout my body. I stumble up trying to leave … he literally rams my head into the wall. My face hit the wall. I fall down. Then he takes my arms again … he continues to force me, and beats me down the hallway.

"He opens the screen door and pushes me out. I fall over the railing and then my face hit the concrete. I go to the front of the house. I pick up a wicker chair and throw it.

"He comes out from the side door. I see him holding a big gun in the air."

Thomas said the gun was an AR-15, which he kept under his bed.

"He starts shooting in the air. He turns it toward me and starts shooting at me," Thomas said.

Smith, 35, has been charged with felonious assault, malicious destruction of personal property $20,000 or more, domestic violence assault and battery, and felony firearm after he allegedly shot up his ex-wife's Mercedes-Benz after an argument outside his Detroit house.

Thomas said she ran to the nearby house of Smith's friend, Carlos Cade. She said Cade let her in to clean up, and use his girlfriend's cell phone to dial 911.

But when Cade heard Thomas mention Smith's name to the 911 operator, he testified, he snatched the phone from her, hung it up, and kicked her out of the house. Thomas corroborated that during her testimony.

Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey asked Cade whether Thomas was trying to call police, to which Dillard said, ""Objection. 911 is not the police."

Judge Michael Wagner quipped: "Who is it?" eliciting chuckles throughout the courtroom.

Lindsey asked Cade: "Sir, in your common sense, when you call 911, are you calling the Domino's pizza delivery?"

Grant, who was in Smith's bed when Thomas entered the bedroom, testified she was afraid Thomas would attack her.

"I have no doubt in my mind, she would've tried to fight me," Grant said, but she said Smith held Grant back.

"He was trying to restrain her; keep her from me," she said. "She was trying to get to me, and the two of them fell."

"She was yelling things like 'He doesn't care about you. He doesn't love you,'" Grant said.

Grant said Smith carried Thomas from the room, then returned a moment later and retrieved his gun. Grant said she didn't see him grab the gun, but heard it hit against the bed frame.

Grant said she heard four gunshots. "All I could see through the window blinds was like lightning," she said.

Michael White, who lives across the street from Smith, also testified.

"I was on the couch asleep," White said. "I woke up; it sounded like somebody running. Heard shots – boom! boom! boom! boom! boom! – then I hit the floor."

Smith, a Democrat who represents Detroit in Lansing, was reportedly naked during the first part of the alleged May 9 offense, although White said he saw him wearing a dark T-shirt and sweat pants.

If convicted, Smith faces up to four years in prison on the felonious assault charges and a possible five years and $15,000 in fines for the malicious destruction of property charges. He could spend up to a year behind bars for the domestic violence charge and another two years for the felony firearms charge.

A conviction wouldn't necessarily lead to removal from office, although there is a state law that gives lawmakers an option to remove a colleague who breaches the public's trust.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, stripped Smith of his committee assignments and relieved him of Democratic caucus duties, such as being the assistant Democratic whip.

Others have called for Smith to resign, and although he has missed some legislative sessions, he still holds his seat.

Smith's father, formerly Wayne Circuit chief judge and currently head of the court's Juvenile Division, was in the courtroom Thursday. The judge told a woman sitting next to him to be quiet, snapping at her, "I don't need your help!"

Sen. Smith is scheduled to appear in Wayne Circuit Court July 9 for an arraignment.

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