An East Feliciana Parish woman testified Thursday that she watched her then-“lover” — Dominique Dantoni Smith — kill his former girlfriend and that woman’s 3-year-old son and cut the throat of his ex-girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter at a BREC park near Zachary in May 2008.
Trendall Lashel Matthews, who pleaded guilty in the case in 2011 to two counts each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, essentially pleaded with Smith on Thursday to do the same as his March 4 trial on those charges nears.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Smith, 31, of Wilson, is convicted of first-degree murder. Smith previously turned down an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence.
With Matthews sitting on the witness stand next to state District Judge Tony Marabella and Smith seated across the courtroom at the defense table with his attorneys, prosecutor Darwin Miller stood between Smith and Matthews and invited Matthews to speak directly to Smith.
Miller said “now is the time” for Matthews, 25, of Jackson, to say something if she wanted to set Smith free and send him home. Instead, Matthews told Smith she wants him to “take responsibility” for what he did May 4, 2008, at Doyle’s Bayou Park on Pride-Port Hudson Road.
“Dominique you know I still love you. If you love yourself and you love your kids, don’t put them through more than what they’ve already gone through,” Matthews, dressed in Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women prison clothes, said to Smith, who wore an East Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuit.
Smith’s attorneys are asking Marabella to prevent the jury from seeing jailhouse letters that Smith allegedly sent to Matthews. Matthews testified Thursday that she felt Smith was trying to influence her testimony in some of the letters. The judge said he will issue a ruling Monday but noted it is “likely” he will not suppress the letters.
Marabella also said it is likely he will allow the jury to hear references to a John Grisham novel that Smith allegedly mailed to Matthews in prison. The book cannot be found, but Matthews testified Smith had written notes on various pages, again allegedly trying to shape her testimony.
Marabella also ruled Thursday that he will allow the jury to view the crime scene.
Earlier during the pretrial hearing, Matthews told Daryl Gold, one of Smith’s attorneys, that she was with Smith in the park when he killed Jessica Johnson Palmer, 23, of Baker, and Juan Palmer Jr., 3. Matthews said Smith also cut 4-year-old Paige Johnson, who survived the attack despite having her throat slit.
“You didn’t cut anybody?” Gold asked.
“No,” Matthews replied.
“Dominique Smith cut everybody?” Gold inquired further.
“Correct,” Matthews answered.
“Yet you pleaded guilty to murder?” Gold pressed on.
“I didn’t call for help. I didn’t stop him. I am guilty,” she explained.
Smith and Jessica Palmer were once romantically involved and had a child together. Matthews and Jessica Palmer are 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.
Matthews on Thursday stood by those statements. She also admitted holding Juan Palmer Jr. when Smith allegedly cut the boy. But, she said, she did nothing to Paige Johnson.
Gold told Matthews that Paige Johnson stated in 2008 that a “lady” cut her mother and brother.
“Is that true?” he asked.
“No!” Matthews said.
Paige Johnson and another one of Palmer’s children, Robbyn Palmer, who was 6 months old at the time, were left overnight in the park for dead.