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Mark Hobbs, defense attorney, from left, Amanda Burgess, court reporter; Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick, Kristen Keller, chief deputy prosecutor; State Police Capt. Scott VanMeter and murder suspect Thomas Leftwich look over a location of interest in the case Monday on South Fayette Street in Beckley.

Jasminda Gonzalez Curen took the witness stand Monday, describing, sometimes tearfully, the early morning hours leading up to the Aug. 29, 2006, shooting death of her then-boyfriend, Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith.

Curen, who is now married and lives in Tennessee, was one of five witnesses called by the prosecution during the opening day of Thomas Leftwich’s trial on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and felony use of a firearm.

Curen told the court she, Smith and Beckley Police Cpl. Will Reynolds, the only other eyewitness to Smith’s death, had been at the Pikeview Lounge during the early morning hours of Aug. 29, when Smith was approached by a man who informed him a drug deal would be going down.

Smith and Reynolds were off duty at the time, and Curen said Smith was not interested in the information until the man mentioned the name “Jellybread,” a street name chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller explained is well-known among narcotics officers.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to locate Jellybread, Curen said Reynolds and Smith were approached by Michael Martin, who offered to arrange for them to purchase drugs and actually rode in Smith’s unmarked police car, a Jeep Cherokee, as he led the trio to the corner of South Fayette Street and Willow Lane, now known to be the Leftwich residence.

There, Curen recalled, Smith and Martin, who in December was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy, exited the Jeep and began talking with a man, believed to be Leftwich, who was standing on a stairwell just above the street.

“He was standing on the curb, looking up and talking,” Curen said, tearfully, describing the final seconds of Smith’s life. “ ... He was talking and he pulled out his badge and said, ‘Now you get to go to jail,’ and I heard shots, I believe four. They were coming from directly in front of him but up above him.

“He grabbed his chest. ... He just yelled.”

In his opening statement, Leftwich's attorney Mark Hobbs told the jury he would argue self-defense, stating Leftwich, whom he referred to as a drug dealer, was afraid he was about to be robbed and thought Smith might have been reaching for a gun, rather than his badge.

“You’re a drug dealer at 4 a.m.,” Hobbs said, telling the jury to consider what was going on in Leftwich’s mind in the moments before the shooting. “(You) think you’re going to get shot ... you shoot first.”

Although Curen admitted the trio had been drinking prior to the alleged undercover drug buy, she said Smith “didn’t seem to be intoxicated” and was “driving fine.”

Hobbs, however, suggested that although the state medical examiner’s office determined Smith’s blood alcohol content at the time of his death to be .07, below the .08 legal limit, Smith perhaps was too impaired to properly conduct police business.

Hobbs also questioned Curen’s presence during the alleged drug buy.

Curen responded that although she had ridden in Smith’s Jeep prior to the night of his death, she had never before been present while he worked.

Prior to Curen’s testimony, 911 recordings of often-frantic 911 calls reporting Smith’s shooting were played.

The recordings, which began at 4:21 a.m., included calls from a tearful Gonzalez, Reynolds and several concerned citizens.

The final recording, which ended at 7:06 a.m., was that of a police officer, informing now-retired Beckley Police Capt. Greg Tanner, who was then the chief of detectives, that officials had caught the suspected shooter.

“Got the shooter. Got the gun,” the recording said. “The guy told me he shot Chuck and he told Jimmy (Raleigh County Sheriff’s Detective James Canaday) the same thing.”

“Who is he?” Tanner asked the officer, who responded, “Thomas Leftwich.”

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Also taking the stand Monday were Beckley Police Cpl. Adam Jones and Sgt. William Ray, who were among the first on the scene.

Tanner also testified regarding Smith’s service revolver, which he said was fully loaded and had not been fired.

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Just prior to lunch, the jury, Leftwich, Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick and both lawyers visited three locations of interest in the case — an apartment at the corner of State Street and Saunders Avenue, the East Park Pool and the corner of Willow Lane and South Fayette Street.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. today.

— E-mail:

mjames@register-herald.com

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