Only 'Witness' Falters on Stand at Smith Trial
Posted October 15, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH — A teenager who survived a February 1996 fire that killed four of her siblings was believed to be the only witness to the arson that started it, but her testimony left that in question Wednesday. Ebony Wilder was easily confused in court, changing her story under questioning by the defense attorney.
Jermaine Smith, 24, is on trial for the deaths of Angela Wilder's children and could face the death penalty if convicted. He is charged with capital murder and setting fire to Wilder's Heritage Park apartment. But his attorneys charged in court Wednesday that the prosecution should drop the case.
Ebony Wilder is the only person who had said she saw Smith do it, but she had a hard time keeping her story straight.
Ebony Wilder said Wednesday that she saw Smith go into her closet carrying a gasoline can.
Defense attorney Joe Cheshire read back statements she had made to police earlier that contradicted her Wednesday testimony. He drew a similar response from Ebony's mother Angela Tuesday, and pointed out that the two women told very different stories about what happened right after the fire broke out.
The defense is apparently trying to paint a picture of a young girl who was repeatedly interrogated by police until she told them that Smith had set the fire. Ebony Wilder says she lied to police when she said she didn't know who set the fire because she was tired, nervous and scared at the time.
The trial will continue Thursday.