Suspect in double murder testifies

An East Feliciana Parish man accused of the grisly double-murder of a former girlfriend and her 3-year-old son at a BREC park near Zachary in 2008 testified Saturday he was elsewhere — at a jogging track behind Lane Memorial Medical Center in Zachary — when the attacks occurred.

An emotionless Dominique Dantoni Smith said his convicted co-defendant, Trendall Lashel Matthews, left him at the track on May 4, 2008, and returned later “wired” and “hyper, hyper, hyper.”

Smith said he asked Matthews where she had been, and Matthews simply replied, “Don’t worry about it.” Smith said Matthews then drove the two of them to a remote area and removed an item from a burn pile, wrapped it in plastic, and drove to another remote area before discarding it.

Prosecutors allege Smith and Matthews burned the bloody clothes they were wearing when they left the park. Prosecutors also contend the item removed from the burn pile was an aluminum baseball bat used in the attacks.

Smith testified that on May 5, 2008 — the same day the bodies of Jessica Johnson Palmer, 23, of Baker, and Juan Palmer Jr., 3, were found at Doyle’s Bayou Park — Matthews told him she had killed Palmer and her son, and also cut the throat of 4-year-old Paige Johnson before leaving that child and her 6-month-old sister, Robbyn Palmer, in the park overnight for dead.

Smith, 31, of Wilson, is standing trial on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jessica Palmer and her son, and two counts of attempted-first degree murder involving Paige and Robbyn.

Smith is Paige’s father; Jessica Palmer was her mother. They were never married. Matthews and Jessica Palmer were cousins. Smith testified there was bad blood between Matthews and Palmer.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office earlier this month withdrew its notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Smith after members of Paige’s family expressed concern about her welfare. Smith would be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

Assistant District Attorney Darwin Miller will cross-examine Smith when the trial resumes Sunday. State District Judge Tony Marabella is presiding over the jury trial.

Sheriff’s detectives have testified previously at pretrial hearings that Smith implicated himself and Matthews in the attacks. Smith said he and Jessica Palmer went for a walk, during which he grabbed her hands while Matthews attacked her, according to an arrest affidavit.

Smith testified Saturday that detectives coerced him into making a false confession.

Matthews, 25, of Jackson in East Feliciana Parish, pleaded guilty to the same murder and attempted murder charges in 2011 in exchange for two life sentences. She also had faced a possible death sentence.

Matthews testified Tuesday that Smith was her boyfriend at the time of the attacks and said Smith killed Jessica Palmer and her son by slitting their throats and also cut the throat of Paige. Matthews said she used her feet to hold Jessica Palmer down while Smith cut her, and that she held onto the boy while Smith cut him. She denied hitting Jessica Palmer with a baseball bat, testifying it was Smith who wielded the bat.

Smith testified Saturday that Matthews’ story was a lie.

“I was not there,” he said when Elton Richey, one of his attorneys, asked if he committed the charged crimes. “No, I did not cut Jessica Palmer or Juan Palmer or anyone. No, I did not ask Trendall Matthews to do any of these crimes.”

Before Smith began his testimony and with the jury out of the courtroom, Marabella asked Smith if he had consulted with his attorneys before taking the stand. Smith said he had, and the decision to testify was his.

“I didn’t advise him either way,” Daryl Gold, who also represents Smith, told the judge.

With the jury back in the courtroom, Smith swore to tell the truth and went on to testify that Matthews told him she tried to kill Paige but stopped.

“She told me she changed her mind because I would hate her,” he said.

Smith testified he also spoke by phone with Michelle Minor on May 5, 2008, and she told him, “We took care of it.”

Minor, who testified Wednesday she was living with Smith in May 2008 and had a child with him, said Smith had asked her more than once to do something to Jessica Palmer.

“I never had a conversation with Michelle Minor about harming anyone, especially Jessica Palmer,” Smith testified.

Smith admitted making a “few mistakes,” including sleeping with Matthews several times while he was married.

Smith, who was honorably discharged from the Army in mid-2006, was training to be a corrections officer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola at the time of the park attack.