Virgil Smith guilty in Chanda Ladner’s death

Published 4:03 pm Friday, August 1, 2008

The suspect in the 2001 murder of a Picayune High School graduate was found guilty in St. Tammany Parish court Friday.

Five days of trial lead to the guilty verdict by a 12 person jury in the case against 47 year-old Virgil Smith, of Slidell, La. St. Tammany 22nd Judicial District Minute Clerk Stephanie Picone said the jury came to a decision after two hours of deliberation.

The murder apparently was revenge by Smith against Chanda Dawn Lader, then 25, after Ladner convinced Smith’s wife to leave her abusive relationship with Smith, according to stories written following the murder. Lader apparently lived with the Smiths for a time and witnessed the abusive relationship they had, according to court testimony.

Previous news stories in the Picayune Item state Ladner’s body was found in March 2001 by her parents at the Tammany Mobile Home Park in Slidell. After several days of being unable to contact Ladner her parents drove from Picayune to attempt to contact her at home where they found her body, the stories state.

She was determined to have been raped, stabbed and strangled.

Initially, Smith was considered only a suspect who would have information about what happened, but days later he was considered a prime suspect, the stories state. A $1,000 reward was offered by an anonymous source for information leading to his whereabouts.

Three weeks later Smith was located in a bar in Arizona. Apparently he hopped a train in an to attempt to find his estranged wife.

Smith’s wife is reported to have left for Arizona. Two days after Smith’s wife filed for divorce, Ladner was found dead in her home. A tip placed Smith in a bar called Neighbors Pub in Peoria, Ariz. He was arrested in April 2001 for the first degree murder of Ladner.

During the trail last week, Smith represented himself, news reports state. He was found guilty of the charge Friday.

Smith’s sentencing will take place on Sept. 4. The death penalty will not be sought. Assistant District Attorney Scott Gardner would not comment on the case and why the death penalty would not be sought.