Death penalty not sought in 2008 double-murder at BREC park

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office has withdrawn its notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Dominique Dantoni Smith in the 2008 slaying of his former girlfriend and her 3-year-old son at a BREC park near Zachary.

In a motion filed Monday, prosecutor Darwin Miller cited family members’ concerns about the welfare of a young girl who survived the attack despite having her throat slit and being left overnight for dead in Doyle’s Bayou Park on Pride-Port Hudson Road.

The 9-year-old girl, who was 4 at the time of the May 4, 2008, incident, could be called to testify at Smith’s trial on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. The girl’s then-6-month-old sibling also was left in the park but was not injured.

The trial, which was set to start March 4, has been pushed back to March 11. If Smith is convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life in prison.

In his motion, Miller says the state received correspondence Feb. 21 from the victims’ maternal family members expressing their concerns “regarding the welfare of the now 9-year-old victim.” The prosecutor noted that numerous discussions were held between the family members and the District Attorney’s Office.

“This notice (of intent to seek the death penalty) is being withdrawn following said discussions,” he states in the motion.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III was in Tennessee at a conference Tuesday but said through Mark Dumaine, his chief of administration, that the decision not to seek the death penalty was made “based upon a solid legal analysis and analysis of the unique facts and circumstances of this particular case.”

Daryl Gold, one of Smith’s attorneys, declined to discuss the developments leading up to the state’s decision to take the death penalty off the table, but he did say, “This is not something the district attorney wanted to do. I think he felt he had no choice.”

Smith, 31, of Wilson, is accused in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Jessica Johnson Palmer, 23, of Baker, and her 3-year-old son, Juan Palmer Jr.

Trendall Lashel Matthews, 25, of Jackson, who was Smith’s girlfriend at the time, pleaded guilty in 2011 to two counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. She is expected to testify against Smith.

Matthews testified at a hearing last month that she watched Smith kill Jessica Palmer and Juan Palmer Jr. and cut Palmer’s daughter, Paige Johnson.

Smith and Jessica Palmer were once romantically involved and had a child together. Matthews and Jessica Palmer were cousins.

Sheriff’s detectives have testified previously that Smith implicated himself and Matthews in the attacks.

Smith told detectives he and Matthews bought a baseball bat and lighter fluid before meeting Palmer and her children at the park, according to an arrest affidavit. Smith said he and Palmer went for a walk, during which he grabbed her hands while Matthews attacked her, the affidavit says. Smith said he and Matthews purchased new clothes at an area store and used the lighter fluid to burn the clothes they were wearing, the affidavit states.

At Matthews’ guilty plea hearing in June 2011, Miller said an altercation and argument erupted involving Smith, Palmer and Matthews, and Smith knocked Palmer to the ground and cut her throat. While Palmer was on the ground, the prosecutor said, Matthews used her feet to hold Palmer down while Smith continued to cut her.