New details emerge in Jessica Smith pre-trial

Jessica Smith is charged with killing her toddler

Accused killer Jessica Smith in a court appearance in Astoria, Aug. 28, 2015 (KOIN)
Accused killer Jessica Smith in a court appearance in Astoria, Aug. 28, 2015 (KOIN)

ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN) — New details emerged in the Jessica Smith case as Cannon Beach police revealed how the crime scene unfolded in the Surfsand Motel.

Smith is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Isabella, and slashing her teenage daughter in the motel. She was found competent to stand trial in June, and this marked the first of pre-trial hearings over various motions.

The pretrial hearing is to determine what evidence can be presented to the jury. Some of what Smith’s defense attorneys hope to prove is that police entered the motel room without proper authorization.

Records show housekeeping staff used their master key card to access the hotel room around 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2014. A voice inside the room told them to go away, according to court records.

The staff became concerned after they heard someone slip and fall. Crews from Cannon Beach fire arrived about 10 minutes later and that’s when the scene inside the hotel room was discovered.

‘There was a large amount of blood in the bathroom’

Smith’s attorney, William Falls, spent the morning trying to prove police wrongfully entered the room without a warrant. But prosecutor Josh Marquis said the first responders didn’t know a crime had occurred before they entered.

Cannon Beach Police Capt. Jason Schermerhorn testifies in the pre-trial hearing for Jessica Smith, July 6, 2016 (KOIN)
Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn testifies in the pre-trial hearing for Jessica Smith, July 6, 2016 (KOIN)

They were simply answering a 911 call from hotel staff, Marquis said, so the responders treated it as a medical emergency.

Questioned by Marquis, Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn said Assistant Fire Chief Frank Swedenborg “asked if someone inside needs help. He heard a faint, ‘No.'”

As an EMS provider, “I’ve never needed a warrant.” Swedenborg said on tape. “We have always just gone in, assessed the situation, and leave if they don’t need help.”

He said they had to gain entry because the housekeepers could only open the door to the room several inches, limited by a sliding deadbolt.

The responders said they did not cut the dead bolt, but Schermerhorn said he didn’t know who did.

Isabella had “intoxicating levels” of chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine found in cough syrup and cold medicines. She died from asphyxiation by drowning but the drug was a factor — Medical Examiner Karen Gunson, 2014

Schermerhorn, in his police uniform, went into the room first, with Swedenborg right behind. He saw 2 people laying on the bed.

“The infant on the left-hand side of the bed, the other young lady on the right hand side. The infant was somewhat propped up,” Swedenborg said on tape. “I went directly to the infant.”

“The door opened and they had seen the foot that had been facing in the upward position,” Schermerhorn said on the stand Tuesday. “(The teenager) also looked very ashen, very gray, and I noticed cuts to each side of her neck.”

Schermerhorn said he saw different piles of linens that “appeared to be covered in blood.”

“There was a large amount of blood in the bathroom that I had seen on the linens,” Schermerhorn said. And then he said he saw the baby and the teen.

“I was confused as to who this female was, whether she was the mother or what her role was here,” he said. “I was trying to figure that out.”

They also found a letter in the room. The opening sentence was read aloud:

“To whom it may concern: (The teen) and I wanted to opt out of life and also spare Isa’s little life from being bullied and abused.”

 

 

Schermerhorn and Swedenborg knew two things: they had to get the teen to a hospital and that the motel room was a crime scene.

That meant they had to leave the toddler’s body in the room while they got a warrant.

“At that point it was very, very hard,” Schermerhorn said. “(The deceased baby is) evidence at that point and we didn’t want to disturb any more of the crime scene than we already had by moving around (the teenager) and moving around the area she was in . At that point there was nothing we could do for the baby and she had to be left.”

Jessica Smith was not in the motel room when they entered. She was arrested days later when the US Coast Guard Sector Columbia River spotted her on a logging road in a heavily forested area 15 miles from Cannon Beach.

The Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office has fought to enter into evidence contents of the interview Smith had with law enforcement. Records show it will demonstrate that she “made knowing, intelligent” statement while waiving her right to remain silent.

The pretrial hearing for Jessica Smith will run at least two more days, but the trial itself won’t happen for another year.

KOIN 6 News reporter Brent Weisberg contributed to this report.

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