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‘I had to’: Argument over dirty dishes allegedly preceded pickax and shooting deaths of grandparents, brother and friend in Alabama

Jared Bracy Smith

Jared Smith-Bracy appears in court on May 15 (WKRG screengrab)

A suspect accused of murdering three relatives and a friend in Alabama carried out the killings after an argument over dirty dishes, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing in the case this week.

Jared Tarant Smith-Bracy, 21, currently faces capital murder charges in the Feb. 22, 2023 deaths of grandparents 80-year-old Leonard Smith and 72-year-old Barbara Smith, 70-year-old family friend Shelia Glover, and the defendant’s 27-year-old brother Jeremy Smith. Leonard Smith was found hacked to death with a pickax in his bedroom. The three remaining victims died from a pickax and shooting attack in the backyard of the Melanie Loop home in Lake Forest.

The defendant, who may face the death penalty if convicted as charged, was hauled into the courtroom in handcuffs and wearing a yellow jumpsuit for his preliminary hearing on Monday afternoon.

Cops in Daphne have said that they received around a dozen 911 calls reporting gunshots on the date of the shocking killings. The suspect, who was found by SWAT hiding out in the woods nearby not long after the killings, allegedly told a responding law enforcement officer “I had to get them before they got me,” Daphne Police Sgt. Jason Vannoy testified at the hearing. The utterance came after the suspect claimed to be one of the victims, Vannoy said.

Vannoy was one of the law enforcement officials who spoke at the press conference in February. He called the crime scene “horrific … the worst I’ve seen, certainly, in 22 years.”

“He was very cooperative in his interview, very polite,” Vannoy described Smith-Bracy, but the suspect “showed no remorse.”

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The main legal question moving forward appears to surround the suspect’s competency, as the defendant has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect.

Jared Smith-Bracy mugshot

Jared Smith-Bracy (Baldwin County Jail mugshot)

While Smith-Bracy’s defense lawyer Thomas Pilcher supported the position that his client’s alleged actions were a “break in his normal behavior,” the prosecution maintained that the suspect is “absolutely responsible for his criminal conduct” until something in the case file “suggests that he has any kind of mental disease or defect.”

Prosecutors have already said on the record that it could take years before there is a trial, if there ever is a trial.

A Baldwin County grand jury will next have an opportunity to evaluate the evidence for itself.

WKRG reported that Smith-Bracy said nothing during his court appearance and did not make eye contact with his mother, who was sobbing and whispering the suspect’s name. See some of the video from inside the courtroom by watching WKRG’s report on the hearing here:

Authorities said the alleged murders occurred after Smith-Bracy had bonded out of jail earlier that day for a criminal mischief incident at the home. An unidentified man gave the defendant a ride back to the home from jail, not knowing what would happen next, WKRG reported. Smith-Bracy allegedly grabbed the driver’s legally owned Glock and carried out the multi-weapon violent rampage thereafter.

Baldwin County jail records show that Smith-Bracy remains held without bond. He has been in jail since he was booked at 3:36 a.m. on Feb. 23.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.