The Columbus Dispatch
Girl’s killer to serve 30 years to life
1991 cold case heated up when DNA match linked felon to rape, slaying of 15-year-old
LONDON, Ohio — As she watched the man who killed her teenage daughter nearly 18 years ago plead guilty yesterday, Rebecca Smitley’s body shook so violently that she dropped the tissues she held in her r ight hand.
Jessica Lyn Keen, an honor-roll student and Westland High School cheerleader, was 15 when Mar vin Lee Smith snatched her from a Weinland Park bus stop in Columbus on March 15, 1991. The teen was having trouble at home at the time and had been staying temporar ily at Huckleberr y House, a counseling center near where she was abducted.
Smith, 52, admitted yesterday that he took Keen to a Madison County cemeter y, where she escaped and ran for her life, climbing fences, ducking behind trees and hiding behind gravestones as he stalked her through the darkness.
In the end, Smith caught her. He beat her to death with a 70-pound grave marker he r ipped from the ground.
“To this ver y day, I can still feel Jessica’s hear t beating as she ran for her life,” Smitley said.
It was 18 years delayed, but yesterday, in the middle of the packed Madison County Common Pleas cour troom, justice finally came.
In a deal that spared his life and prevented a death-penalty tr ial that was set to begin March 9, Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated murder with specifications of rape and kidnapping. Three judges sentenced him to 30 years to life in pr ison.
Smith had not initially been a suspect in the case. Back then, he had been charged with assaults against two Columbus women and was out on bond when Keen disappeared.
Smith eventually was convicted for the two Columbus attacks and ser ved nine years in pr ison. While he was incarcerated, the law changed and, as a felon convicted of a violent
cr ime, he had to submit a DNA sample for a state database.
Meanwhile, Keen’s case grew cold.
Then last year, state cr imelab technicians used new technology and found that Smith’s DNA matched evidence from Keen’s rape and murder.
Special Agent Gregg Costas of the Ohio Bureau of Cr iminal Identification & Investigation and Madison County Sher iff Jim Sabin found Smith living in Burlington, N. C.
Smitley left the cour troom yesterday as Sabin descr ibed
“Do you feel the heat? Do you feel his presence? ... It’s the devil himself.”
to her daughter’s killer the scene at the histor ic Foster Chapel Cemeter y, where Jessica’s body was found March 17 , 1991, by a woman there to photograph old headstones.
Smitley said she has never forgiven herself: “ I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to protect Jess, to kiss away her pain. I couldn’t save her.”
In cour t, Smith said nothing in his own behalf. He dropped his shoulders and sobbed as Keen’s family addressed him. But he never looked at them.
“ I see before me a man with no conscience, no desire to tell the tr uth,” Smitley said to him. “ A hear tless, soulless being placed here on Ear th just to spread evil.”
She told Smith, however, that he wasn’t alone. She told him that there was someone with him even now.
“ Do you feel the heat? Do you feel his presence? Do you smell the sickening odor?” she asked. “ He’s r ight there smiling, standing r ight behind you. It’s the devil himself, ready to take you.”