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Only 'Witness' Falters on Stand at Smith Trial

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RALEIGH — A teenager who survived aFebruary 1996 fire that killed four of her siblings was believed to bethe only witness to the arson that started it, but her testimony left thatin question Wednesday. Ebony Wilder was easily confused in court, changingher story under questioning by the defense attorney. 

Jermaine Smith, 24, is on trial for the deaths of Angela Wilder's childrenand could face the death penalty if convicted. He is charged with capitalmurder and setting fire to Wilder's Heritage Park apartment. But his attorneyscharged in court Wednesday that the prosecution should drop the case. 

Ebony Wilder is the only person who had said she saw Smith do it, butshe had a hard time keeping her story straight. 


Ebony Wilder said Wednesday that she saw Smith go into her closet carryinga gasoline can. 


Defense attorney Joe Cheshire read back statements she had made to policeearlier that contradicted her Wednesday testimony. He drew a similar responsefrom Ebony's mother Angela Tuesday, and pointed out that the two womentold very different stories about what happened right after the fire brokeout. 

The defense is apparently trying to paint a picture of a young girlwho was repeatedly interrogated by police until she told them that Smithhad set the fire. Ebony Wilder says she lied to police when she said shedidn't know who set the fire because she was tired, nervous and scaredat the time. 

The trial will continue Thursday.