A man arranged for the killing of his pregnant girlfriend because he didn't want the baby, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, but a defense attorney said there was no credible evidence to tie his client to the 2001 crime.
Derek Paul Smyer, 35, was arrested in 2011 and charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of 27-year-old Crystal Taylor and her unborn son, who she planned to name Jeremiah, according to the prosecution.
Smyer is additionally charged with two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. The alleged shooter, 34-year-old Skyler Jefferson Moore, is being tried separately.
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Moore is already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for another 2001 murder, and prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against him. Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers told the seven-man, five-woman jury that Taylor, who had a 10-year-old son, met Smyer at Anderson Park in Carson during a lunch break from work.
When she later became pregnant, Taylor didn't want to tell Smyer and asked a friend to email him, the prosecutor said.
"He begged Crystal to have an abortion ... (and) the relationship soured," Meyers said, telling jurors that Smyer told Taylor, "I don't want the baby because this is how my first baby was born."
Smyer, dressed in a navy suit, shook his head at the comment and throughout portions of the prosecution's opening statement. Taylor visited an abortion clinic, but could not bring herself to abort her child, Meyers said. She was about 20 weeks pregnant when she was was shot on Sept. 25, 2001, while coming down the stairs outside her Hawthorne apartment.
"One gunshot wound to the head, that's all it took," Meyers said. Witnesses identified Moore as the alleged gunman, and a friend of Taylor's is expected to testify that Smyer and Moore played basketball together. Meyers also implicated Smyer in two attacks on the mother of his two daughters.
"In 1998, the defendant Mr. Smyer was dating a ... high school buddy named Tracy Williamson," who got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, though "Mr. Smyer implored her to get an abortion," the prosecutor said.
When Williamson was seven to eight months pregnant, Smyer called and asked her to meet him in an alley, where she was attacked by a man with a knife who cut her throat, according to Meyers. Both Williamson and the baby survived.
When Williamson got pregnant again, just months after Taylor was killed, she was again attacked in her third trimester, this time by a man who knocked her to the ground and punched her in the stomach, Meyer said. The baby and Williamson survived.
"How unfortunate it was that Crystal Taylor got pregnant by a man like Derek Smyer," the prosecutor told jurors.
"He murdered her ... because he did not want another child," she alleged. "The defendant and Skyler Moore decided to end the life of this young woman and this 5 1/2-month-old fetus."
Defense attorney Calvin Schneider III noted that Smyer was "not arrested until almost 10 years after" Taylor's killing.
"Think about how hard it would be for someone to prove what he was doing back in 2001," he told jurors.
The defense attorney said Smyer had no relationship with Moore and that investigators found no emails, text messages or phone calls between the two.
"Mr. Moore ... is a gang member," Schneider said. "The gang members don't even know Mr. Smyer," who the attorney said never had any gang affiliation.
Taylor's friend who said she saw the two playing basketball together originally told investigators that she'd never been to Anderson Park, Schneider told the jury.
Other than her revised statement, there is "no evidence that these two were ever in the same location at the same time," he said, adding that there was no evidence that any money exchanged hands between the two.
Smyer didn't learn of Taylor's pregnancy until July 23 and by Aug. 8, Moore was arrested and held for 30 days in jail for an unrelated crime, which "limits the opportunity for them to meet in the first place," Schneider said.
Schneider said he also didn't believe that Moore was Taylor's killer. The defense attorney said Sept. 25, 2001, was Moore's birthday and he was home with his family that morning, walked his brother and sister to school and then visited his probation officer around 9 a.m.
Prints from the scene don't match Moore's; the murder weapon, a revolver, was never found; and none of the clothing described as worn by the shooter was found in Moore's apartment, Schneider said. The defense attorney agreed that his client didn't want the baby Taylor was carrying.
"For a 19-year-old, who went through this when he was 16, he doesn't want the child," Schneider said. But he showed the jury photos of Smyer at the hospital following the birth of each of his two daughters and told the panel that his client dropped out of high school in 1988 "to earn money to support the child."
Schneider said he believes the first attack on Williamson was a would-be robbery. In the second attack, Williamson waited about 11 days before filing a police report accusing Smyer of putting one of his friends up to assaulting her, Schneider said.
At that point, Williamson had "no bruises" or other evidence of injury, according to the defense attorney. About 41 days later, Smyer's second daughter was born.
"Proud father or killer?" Schneider asked, displaying a photo of Smyer smiling and holding the baby girl. "The fact that people think that Mr. Smyer was involved doesn't mean it's true," he reminded the jury. "I'm going to ask you to find him not guilty."