Appeals Court upholds George Co. man’s murder conviction

Published 6:47 pm Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Michael Latavin Smith’s contention that his confession was illegally obtained because he never waived his rights to questioning by police has been rejected by the state Court of Appeals.

Smith was convicted in 2006 by a George County jury of murdering 19-year-old Joanna Eubanks. Smith was sentenced to life in prison.

Smith, of the Merrill community, was charged with murder in the shooting death of Eubanks on Aug. 11, 2004.

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Prosecutors said Smith and Eubanks were alone in Smith’s mobile home when the shooting occurred. Prosecutors said Eubanks told Smith that she wanted to break off their relationship.

According to the court record, Smith told investigators that he and Eubanks were talking while he was cleaning a handgun. Smith said the handgun fired accidentally, striking Eubanks in the face.

He later told investigators that he was playing with the gun, which he said had only four rounds in the chamber, according to court documents. He put the gun to his head in a form of Russian roulette and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Then he put the gun to Eubank’s head and the gun went off, prosecutors said.

On appeal, Smith said his confession was not voluntary. Two police officers testified at his trial that Smith twice was advised of his Miranda rights and both times signed a wavier of those rights.

The familiar warning given by police tells suspects they have a right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. They are told that anything they say may be used against them in court and if they can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for them by the court.

Appeals Judge William H. Myers, writing Tuesday for the court, said evidence considered by the trial judge included that Smith had previously pleaded guilty to other charges, indicating that he understood the system.

Myers said there was no evidence that Smith was coerced or intimidated into confessing to the crime. He said there also was no evidence that Smith possessed a learning disability or low IQ that would prevent him from fully understanding and waiving his rights.