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Accused Stepfather Has Long Criminal Record

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HILLSBOROUGH — One day after an Orange County man was arrested in the beating and shaking to death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter, family and friends are stepping forward to defend him.

But some people say James Russell Smith Jr. has had a pattern of abuse.

Smith made his first appearance in an Orange County Courtroom Friday morning. He is charged with second degree murder in the death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter Glasya Lynn Cook.

Smith is no stranger to the court system with motor vehicle, domestic and two child abuse charges against him.

Detectives say the restraining orders and other charges against Smith do fit a pattern.

"Those over a course of years would lead you to believe that the violence is escalating," said Major Don Truelove of the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

The girl, called Amanda by her family, was struck in the head, and shaken violently, medical examiners say. Emergency workers were called to the family's Mebane home Thursday morning, but were unable to save the child.

Smith says he spanked her Wednesday night and "popped her in the mouth," according to Sgt. Ned Thorpe of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

"As for how strong, and how many times she was spanked, he said two or three small licks on the buttocks, that's his statement," Thorpe says.

Nevertheless, Smith's family cannot believe the 36-year-old is guilty of this crime.

"This isn't fair," his sister says. "Nobody deserves this and I don't think he does. I'm not just saying it because he's my brother. I know him. He's not that way," Barbara Riddle says.

His mother, Donna Kennedy, says, "We will stick beside him no matter what happens but we would just like to know why. If he did it, we would like to know why."

Others are less supportive of Smith. A girl who used to play with one of Smith's daughters says he had a violent temper.

"Not too long ago, his little son ran away to the woods and the cops had to come to find him, because he was trying to beat him," said Cynthia Duncan, a family friend.

Amanda was being watched by Smith Wednesday night. She was found dead Thursday morning. The mother was not in the house at the time Wednesday night when the father was watching Amanda.

The mother has not been charged with anything at this point.

The couple also has a 3-month-old girl that has been put into protective custody.

Smith is being held at the Orange County jail without bond. He may be transferred to Central Prison in Raleigh for his own protection.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Chad Flowers, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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