Carol Smith fought for justice after daughter Erika's murder in Silver Spring

A look at 9-year-old Erika Smith's life, the aftermath of her murder, and her mother Carol's search for peace and justice.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010

A fter years of losing one court battle and then another, Carol Smith was dumbfounded in early 2008 when a Montgomery County judge ruled that Anthony Kelly, her 9-year-old daughter's alleged killer, had been found competent to stand trial. It was the first time, six years after Erika had been killed, that she could remember something going her way.

We had planned to marry in the summer. Now, with Kelly's trials suddenly coming up -- for two rapes and two murders -- we rushed it through in six weeks, a joyous if hastily arranged celebration.

The pretrial hearings and motions came almost weekly by late spring, and Carol attended every one. The rape trials began in early summer. Kelly, clearly delighted to be sparring with Montgomery County state's attorney John McCarthy, had gained weight. His barrel chest loomed above a belly. His voice was flat, just above a rasp. He rocked his weight from foot to foot during his opening argument.

Look at my criminal record, he told the jury. I steal cars and I sell drugs, but I don't rape women. He said he'd broken into plenty of houses and seen women "buck naked," but he did not bother them.

But his DNA matched that of semen obtained from the 60-year-old rape victim. Prosecutors convinced the jury that he had walked past the woman on a Silver Spring sidewalk one night in March 2002, hit her in the face with the butt of his pistol, raped her, broke her wrist and dislocated her shoulder. Kelly was also convicted of forcing a 20-year-old woman in Wheaton into a stolen Cadillac at knifepoint and assaulting her in a nearby wooded area.

Erika and her father were killed on Aug. 6, 2002. Now it was late in the summer of 2008.

Finally, the murder trial loomed.

The giggling little girl

Erika had a high, soft voice. She was prone to giggle fits. She loved cats. She was shy, except at home with her family. She read 25 books the summer before she died -- the young accountant in her kept records -- and loved to curl up in bed with one and a bowl of popcorn. "Just one more chapter, Mom," she'd call out when Carol would tell her it was bedtime.

She liked to dance but didn't have much rhythm. She could be impetuous. She cried when scolded.

From the age of 6, Erika wrote reports, novels and plays. She wrote these just for herself, in her room, an only child and her prodigious imagination. Carol found many of them only after Erika died. "My First Pet: Written and Illustrated by Erika Smith." "Tobreka Nation's Mayflower Journal." An untitled episode for "SpongeBob SquarePants." ("Cene one: It is snowing in Bikini Bottom.")

I have in my lap her notes for a story she was writing when she died. It is about "Cindy Vortex," who is 10. Cindy's best friend is Libby and her enemy is Jimmy.

"Bio: Cindy used to be the smartest kid in class until she moved across the street from Jimmy now she's the second smartest and she's none too happy about it." A few lines later, Erika notes that Cindy "pretends to like Nick Dean," but that she actually "likes Jimmy, though she'd probably die before she told anyone."

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company