CUMMING – The use of an accelerant, an affair and financial motives were all reasons that a fire investigator concluded a woman and her acquaintance allegedly killed the woman’s husband.
In her testimony, Lt. Debbie Lindstrom, a Forsyth County Fire Department investigator, described how she reached the conclusion that Michael Smith was murdered.
Jill Smith, 34, is charged with felony arson and murder in the first degree in the death of her husband at their home, 5540 Kennemore Drive off Union Hill Road in south Forsyth.
Magistrate Court of Forsyth County Chief Judge Walker H. Bramblett found probable cause on both charges.
Smith arrived in handcuffs for her preliminary hearing Feb. 1. She wore her county jail-assigned orange jumpsuit and sobbed several times during Lindstrom’s testimony.
On Jan. 18, Peter Blake Delaney, 37, who is also accused of killing Michael Smith in the house fire Oct. 22, made his initial appearance. Bramblett also ruled there was probable cause in Delaney’s case.
Smith and Delaney’s case will now be heard by a grand jury in Superior Court. A date has not yet been set.
Lindstrom said at Smith’s preliminary hearing that when she arrived on the scene, Delaney immediately told her that he and Smith were having an affair, and that he believed Michael Smith had committed suicide.
Lindstrom said Delaney’s statement raised suspicion.
“I’ve never investigated a fire due to suicide,” Lindstrom said. “It’s an unusual situation for someone to commit suicide by fire.”
Lindstrom said Smith sat in a lethargic behavior on a lawn chair across the street from her burning home. Smith indicated her husband was, “drunk all day,” Lindstrom said.
Toxicology results showed Michael Smith’s blood alcohol level was 0.14 and he had traces of anxiety medication, Xanax, in his system.
Lindstrom, the lone witness at the hearing, also testified that Smith’s statements were inconsistent throughout her investigation.
During Lindstrom’s investigation, she found an accelerant was used and the fire set on the master bedroom’s floor, near Michael Smith’s side of the bed. Lindstrom said she did not know who set the fire, but Smith and Delaney were both present.
Prosecutor James Dunn, assistant district attorney, said Smith and Delaney conspired to murder Michael Smith because they were having an affair and there was financial gain.
Michael Smith had named Jill Smith as sole beneficiary in his $250,000 life insurance policy.
Smith’s attorneys Kyle Epps and Phil Pilgrim, said their client was innocent. Pilgrim said Lindstrom could not give proof the couple conspired to murder Michael Smith.
“Simply because she was having an affair, that is not illegal conduct,” Pilgrim said.
Pilgrim said the state’s case against Smith is based on suspicion and that there was not enough evidence to determine probable cause.
“The only evidence [Lindstrom] has is that [Smith] has inconsistent statements,” Pilgrim said in his closing argument.
Dunn countered that arson cases are mainly judged on circumstantial evidence.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Dunn said.
Judge Bramblett agreed with the prosecution.