By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The 9-year-old murder victim, as described during a trial in Montgomery County that ended yesterday, could not have been more precious. She played at piano recitals, her hands shaking with nerves. Her smile was so wide that ice cream parlor workers near her home called her "Little Miss Peppermint."
What happened during her final seconds alive in 2002 could not have been in sharper contrast.
Parolee Anthony Kelly -- found guilty yesterday of killing Erika Smith and her father, Greg Russell -- broke through a kitchen window in their Silver Spring house, wearing a bushy wig and a fake beard. He made his way toward the girl's bedroom.
"Daddy! Daddy!" she screamed, according to testimony from a friend of Russell's who was on the phone with the father.
"Erika!" Russell called back, running to help his daughter.
Kelly pistol-whipped Erika. He shot her in the back, the bullet ripping through her heart. Then he turned to Russell, shooting him at least six times. Kelly grabbed a New Testament with $3 tucked into its pages and fled.
The verdict, after less than five hours of jury deliberations, was the third in a row against Kelly, who faced trials in Montgomery this summer in connection with a 2002 crime spree.
Authorities say he killed three people, raped at least two others, broke into a gun store and stole five vehicles. The crimes stunned people in the area, but the sniper attacks later that year overshadowed what had happened.
After his arrest, Kelly was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Howard County, having been found mentally unfit to stand trial. Earlier this year, however, a judge's ruling cleared the way for Kelly to be prosecuted. At the latest trial, prosecutors said DNA lifted from the long brown beard and the black wig matched Kelly's.
Kelly again represented himself in court, creating some chilling moments. He cross-examined Erika's mother, Carol Smith, asking two questions so pointed that Smith did not speak for nearly 20 seconds. She finally broke the silence by telling Kelly that he shot Erika.
Kelly also cross-examined his wife, Tonya Kie. He married her during the crime spree, in August 2002.
Prosecutors called Kelly's wife to the witness stand, where she testified about Kelly coming home with items stolen from a Seattle tourist, including a camera and a pen.
"I want a divorce," Kie said on the stand.
In one of the trial's lighter moments, Circuit Court Judge Durke Thompson interrupted Kie, telling her, "We're not here for that, ma'am."
Kelly, who had dismissed his court-ordered attorneys months ago, addressed the jury in his opening statement. He said he had the wig and beard -- items police found hidden under a spare tire in his sport-utility vehicle -- for a Halloween party.
"That's what it's for, and stuff like that," Kelly said. "And another thing: Anthony Kelly is not an evil, selfish, coldhearted child killer."
Kelly, wearing a black T-shirt with cartoon figures on it, spoke to jurors for 21 minutes yesterday, reading with little emotion from a yellow legal pad. "I did not kill little Erika and her father for a little pocket-sized Bible," he said.
But between Kelly's opening and closing remarks, prosecutors and witnesses delivered an abundance of evidence against him. The Bible, for instance, was found inside Kelly's SUV.
The verdict heartened friends and family members of the victims, dozens of whom attended the trial. David Russell, brother and uncle, traveled from North Carolina for the trial. He drove to the house where Greg and Erika were killed, and the new owner let him come in and walk around upstairs.
"Now that I know what happened," David Russell said after the verdict, "and I know who did it, and he has been convicted, a burden has been lifted off my shoulders."
D.C. prosecutors are preparing to try Kelly in a killing they say he committed there. Katie Hill, the tourist from Seattle, had come to Washington for a convention of fountain pen collectors and was shot near the Takoma Metro stop. Authorities in the District might also pursue a rape case against Kelly.