Alexis Murray Smith did not show emotion as she was found guilty of child abuse resulting in the September 2021 fentanyl overdose death of her 12-year-old son Brent Sullivan.
The 12-person jury took about three and a half hours to render its verdict Friday, after the four-day trial, finding Murray Smith was guilty of one count each of intentional child abuse resulting in death and child abuse not resulting in death.
The second charge was brought as Murray Smith’s infant daughter was also present in the home where Sullivan was found dead.
Murray Smith, an admitted fentanyl user, was arrested after Sullivan was found unresponsive on Sept. 28, 2021, in a shed on the property of Murray Smith’s mother, Kellie Smith.
Smith faced identical charges and was scheduled for a trial Nov. 6.
On the fourth and final day of the trial, Murray Smith took the stand to plead her case to the jury. She testified that she was unaware that Sullivan would have access to drugs when she dropped him off at her mother’s house on Sept. 27, 2021.
He was found dead the next day at about noon from toxicity from fentanyl and methamphetamine, both of which the prosecution argued Murray Smith knew the boy had access to at both her house in the 800 block of Alamosa and Smith’s house in the 2400 block of Western Way.
The defense continued to paint its picture of a drug-addicted mother, struggling to care for five children on her own after a divorce, and unaware of any danger of access to drugs present on the day and place of Sullivan’s death.
Murray Smith will be sentenced at a later hearing and could face life in prison.
Here’s what happened on the last day of the trial of Alexis Murray Smith.
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District Attorney says ‘justice for Brent’ is served
Upon hearing the verdict, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce said that as the case awaited trial for two years, she had gotten to know members of Sullivan’s family, many of whom attended to the trial.
She said the case was a “tragedy” and that the case against Murray Smith resulted in a guilty verdict based strictly on the evidence presented.
“This is really justice for Brent,” Luce said. “It’s just such a tragedy that never should have happened. No matter how awful the case is, we have to use the evidence that is allowed. We always hope that the right result comes out of a case. If not, we wouldn’t take it to trial.”
Defense Attorney Todd Holmes said he didn’t believe the prosecution proved that Murray Smith intentionally abused Sullivan, causing his death.
He said the mother and deceased child were close, and that sending his client to prison was tragic.
“I don’t know if it’s going to do anybody any good. For me, this is not justice for Brent,” Holmes said. “I know Alexis could have made better decisions. It was a tough case with a tough set of facts, and not a lot of proof of an unsafe place.
“She wasn’t just dropping Brent off to get high. She had a legitimate purpose. She was trying to get him off that stuff.”
Alexis Murray Smith defends herself from accusations she caused son’s death
From the witness stand, Murray Smith told the jury how she had attended school at New Mexico State University, earned the distinction of “Crimson Scholar” due to her grade point average and for almost 10 years lead the life of exemplary mother.
Sullivan and Murray Smith’s three other daughters played sports, took dance lessons and she frequently drove them to lessons and practice, Murray Smith said.
She was a soccer coach, and said she was honored as coach of the year in the fall 2018 and spring 2019 seasons.
Her marriage to Christopher Murray became strained when the couple found out their new baby was not Murray’s son.
He moved out by January 2021, when Murray Smith said she began using fentanyl.
She said she was still able to fulfill her duties to her children while using the drug, and that the drug use quickly shifted from getting high to “getting well” and staving off devastating withdrawal symptoms.
“When you’ve been using it, it’s how you function,” Murray Smith said. “So, you’re not getting high, you’re getting well from it.”
She said she thought about quitting “all the time,” and only used at the house in her bathroom or backyard shed when no one was around.
Sullivan started stealing alcohol from a local store around that time, Murray Smith said, and she became aware he had problems with substance abuse by age 11, eventually graduating to fentanyl.
He was sent to a detox center in El Paso in July 2021, she said, but she pulled him out when Sullivan was diagnosed with schizophrenia and doctors attempted to prescribe medication for the child.
She denied ever seeing him use fentanyl, but said he told her he was using the drug.
On the morning of Sept. 27, 2021, the day before Sullivan’s death, Murray Smith said she came home and smelled fentanyl being smoked in her house.
She explained she dropped Sullivan off at her mother’s house to search for any drugs he had hidden and checked on the boy that night.
She decided then that Sullivan’s demeanor had improved, and he could spend the night with his grandmother.
“I trust my mom,” Murray Smith said from the stand. “I have no reason to not trust my mom. She loved my kids. She loved them just like I did.”
The next day at about noon, Sullivan was found dead from the overdose.
Prosecution argues Murray Smith knew grandmother’s house contained drugs, was unsafe
In her closing arguments, Luce told the jury to focus on the timeline.
She pointed to text messages from the day of Sullivan’s death starting at 11:06 a.m.
That’s when Smith, Sullivan’s grandmother texted her boyfriend Michael Ortiz “Where are you?”
Ortiz respond at 11:25 a.m. that he was at his mother’s, and then arrived at the house at 11:30 a.m., finding Sullivan dead in the shed minutes later.
The 911 call was made at 12:32 p.m. by John Rauch, a friend of Smith’s staying at the house.
Luce implied this illustrated that Smith, Murray Smith and Ortiz, a known drug user, had an hour to hide any drugs being kept in the house before police got there.
“We have an hour unconfirmed. We know they had an hour,” Luce said. “What’s going on is there’s a whole lot of pills in Kellie Smith’s house.”
Luce said Murray Smith “chose her addiction over her kids.”
“She had been a good mom, but she let her addiction take over and become her priority,” Luce said. “She didn’t keep her drugs away. She knew better. She showed reckless disregard for the safety and health of Brent Sullivan.”
Defense admits Murray Smith was an addict, but argues state failed to prove intent
Holmes in his closing arguments contended that while prosecutors proved Murray Smith was a drug addict, none of the evidence was proof that she intentionally caused her son’s death.
“She’s a bad mother, she’s a druggie. That’s about all they’ve proved in this case,” he said to the jury. “It’s always tragic and sad when we hear of children suffering. Your heart just cries out when we hear these stories.
“Immediately we try to place blame. Resist that temptation. It’s easy to say somebody ought to pay for this.”
Holmes continued his argument that no drugs were found at the house on Western Way, and that Murray Smith had no reason to believe Sullivan would have access to any if left there with his grandmother.
“This case is not about the source of the pill. This case is about that decision to leave Brent with grandma. It’s “Was that decision safe?” Holmes said. “Even if it was careless, even if it was negligent, then Lexi is not guilty.”
But the jury disagreed, finding Murray Smith guilty.
She was walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs following the verdict, dressed in an inmate uniform and taken back into custody to await sentencing.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Alexis Murray Smith guilty of child abuse in son’s drug overdose death
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