University of South Carolina student Martha Childress of Greenville was an 18-year-old freshman out with friends in the Five Points area of Columbia around 2 a.m. on October 13, 2013. Out of nowhere, she was lying on the ground, having been hit in the side by a stray bullet that damaged her lung, liver, and kidney and came to rest in her spine. She’s been paralyzed ever since.
Michael Juan Smith is now on trial in Columbia on attempted murder and gun charges. Lawyers gave their opening statements Tuesday and started questioning witnesses.
Assistant solicitor Dolly Garfield told the jury that it didn’t matter that Martha Childress was not Smith’s intended victim. He was a convicted felon in possession of a gun who fired at another man, despite the fact that they were surrounded by other people. “The defendant missed his target, but his intention to kill his target continued to travel with that bullet, landing in Martha’s side,” Garfield told the jury.
Defense attorney Aimee Zmroczek told jurors that Smith is guilty of illegally having a gun, for which he already pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to 10 years. She says he had the stolen gun because the last time he was in Five Points he got attacked and beaten badly. She says in this case, three gang members targeted him because, while he wasn’t in a gang himself, he hung around with others who are in gangs.
“It’s my fear that sympathy, well-deserved, for Martha Childress, will change how you view the facts,” she told jurors in her opening statement.
Martha Childress told jurors what happened to her that night. She and a friend had gone to a concert at the State Fair and then went to Five Points. They were waiting for a cab to take them home.
“All of the sudden I just heard this really loud noise, and I wasn’t, I’m not sure what it was and I just fell to the ground. And I wasn’t sure why I had fallen. I just thought I had tripped over something, and immediately I couldn’t feel my legs at all,” she said. She didn’t know she had been shot until she was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital and the paramedic who was treating her told her. She was having trouble breathing because of the damage the bullet did to her lung. She blacked out and doesn’t remember anything until she woke up in the intensive care unit.
Smith’s trial will continue Wednesday.