ONE FEATHER STAFF REPORT
ASHEVILLE – James Ernest Lespier, 31, from Cherokee, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Asheville on one count of murder in connection with a fatal shooting which allegedly took place on May 18 in which 22-year-old Erien Amanda Smith was killed. He is also charged in a second criminal count with use of and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
Lespier pled not guilty to the charges in federal court in Asheville on Monday, June 7.
According to a federal court document filed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell on Tuesday, June 1, the judge questions the weight of the evidence in the case.
He wrote, “The weight of the evidence against the person barely reaches the level of probable cause. The evidence produced at the preliminary hearing and the detention hearing shows that the defendant’s girlfriend fired a firearm in his direction three to four times and in the defendant’s efforts to defend himself a struggle occurred between himself and his girlfriend. In the struggle over the firearm, the firearm fired with the round striking the defendant’s girlfriend in the back of the neck.”
According to federal documents filed with the Criminal Complaint, Lespier called Cherokee Indian Police Dispatch at 1:18am on Tuesday, May 18 and said repeatedly “Mandy is dead.” The shooting occurred at the home of Lespier and the victim on J. Crowe Road in the Rough Branch Housing area of the Wolfetown Community.
Only Lespier, the victim and their son were in the house at the time of the shooting. A get-together had been held, but everyone had left by that time.
Federal documents state, “Lespier made voluntary verbal statements to the responding officers that the female victim had been shooting at him. He stated that he struggled with her to attempt to get the gun away from her, causing the firearm to discharge.”
An autopsy was performed on Wednesday, May 19 at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva. “The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back of the head/neck.”
A .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver was found underneath the victim’s left leg.
The medical examiner’s conclusion was that the gunshot wound was not consistent with Lespier’s version.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that Don Gast, Assistant U.S. Attorney, will prosecute the case against Lespier.
According to federal court information, if convicted Lespier faces a maximum statutory penalty of imprisonment for life.
Note: The public is reminded that a criminal complaint contains mere allegations and that a defendant is presume innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.