Police outline circumstantial murder case against Kirby Smith's widow

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJune 6, 2014 

Ten years after Kirby Smith was found shot to death inside his custom auto shop, cold-case detectives Friday in Columbus Recorder’s Court outlined a largely circumstantial case against Smith’s estranged wife Rebecca Smith Haynie and her then-lover, Donald Keith Phillips.

Smith, 50, was found shot once in the torso and again in the head the morning of March 8, 2004, in Kirby’s Speed Shop at 1438 Jacqueline Drive, but police estimated he’d been killed about 9 p.m. the previous day, a Sunday.

Detectives found no evidence anyone had forced entry into the shop, and determined all that was missing was a gold necklace Smith wore. He still had cash in his pocket, and guns and more money were still in a safe at the shop, indicating he was not robbed by strangers.

In court Friday, investigators testified they immediately considered his estranged wife a suspect, as she and Smith were going through a contentious divorce, and Smith had evidence of his wife’s infidelity. The divorce terms under consideration at the time would have awarded them joint custody of their son Kirby Smith III, so the mother likely would have received no child support nor gained any cash settlement, they said.

Haynie back then had talked about wanting Smith dead, and possibly hiring a hit man, they said. Witnesses said she’d also remarked that she would get the gold necklace Smith wore even if she had to remove it from his dead body, detectives said.

On March 3, 2004, Smith spent part of the day riding dune buggies with his oldest son Dustin, one of two children from an earlier marriage. That evening at his auto shop, he was on his computer, which he had used to post a profile of himself on the online dating site Match.com, investigators said.

They said Haynie and Smith had an AOL account through which Haynie could tell Smith logged onto his auto shop computer about 8:30 p.m. She then was working as a nurse at a high-risk nursery in a Warm Springs hospital, and later told police she had been called in for an emergency C-section that night, though investigators later determined she had the authority to set her own hours, and suspected she created an alibi.

In 2004, she was living off Edgewood Road near University Avenue. Phillips was at her home that night. Detectives said witnesses reported overhearing a loud argument that evening between Phillips, Haynie and her then-boyfriend Heath Haynie, whom she married three months after Smith’s death.

Detectives said during that altercation, witnesses overheard Rebecca Haynie say, “I just want to be happy!”

Phillips told police he left the house about 8:45 p.m. to drive to a Taco Bell at 7330 Veterans Parkway, a trip investigators estimated at 11 minutes. There he called Rebecca Haynie’s cell phone from a pay phone, investigators said.

Phone records showed the call went through at 9:33 p.m., police said, leaving Phillips time to kill Smith on Jacqueline Drive before traveling to Taco Bell to make the call.

In 2012, police learned Rebecca Haynie knew Smith was on Match.com that night, though a search of her computers showed no evidence she ever checked the website, detectives said. The photograph Smith used, showing him and his youngest son beside his yellow Corvette, was posted 10 days before his death, police said. They said he’d signed up for the dating site in the fall of 2003.

As other incriminating evidence, detectives cited discrepancies in what the suspects told them.

They said Phillips initially told them he did not wake up until 4:30 p.m. March 3, 2004, but telephone records showed he was up much earlier; and he at first denied having had a sexual relationship with Haynie, but later admitted he had.

They said Rebecca Haynie under questioning asked them about checking her hands for gunshot residue, saying she and Heath Haynie had gone hunting that day. Heath Haynie told police the only game in season at the time was turkey, and they did not go turkey hunting.

Investigators cited a witness they said was a child in 2004, but now was old enough to provide details about Haynie’s relationship with Phillips, telling police Phillips would do anything for Rebecca Haynie, even testify he was gay to hide their sexual affair.

Defense attorney John Martin, who represented Phillips at Friday’s hearing, said he assumed that witness was Kirby Smith III, who’s now 17.

Representing Rebecca Haynie was attorney Mike Reynolds. Both he and Martin said they heard no new evidence to bolster the prosecution’s case, which Reynolds called “less than circumstantial.”

Police produced no evidence connecting Rebecca Haynie or Phillips to the crime scene, they noted — no fingerprints, no witnesses who saw either suspect there, no incriminating statements from either. Detectives said nothing on Rebecca Haynie’s home computers tied her to the homicide.

Said Reynolds: “I didn’t hear anything in the context of this hearing today that was any different, so in other words, the strength of their case in 2004 is the same as it is in 2014…. It’s less than circumstantial, as far as I’m concerned.”

Martin said Phillips maintains he is innocent, and no evidence shows he’s not:

“He said he did not do it, did not have anything to do with it, was not hired to do it, and didn’t do it, and as we had the preliminary hearing, I haven’t heard any information or evidence directly or indirectly stating that he did this.”

Carolyn Ratliff, Smith’s ex-wife and mother of his two older children, was on good terms with Smith and long suspected Haynie played a role in his death. She said Haynie received life insurance benefits from Smith’s death, but police produced no evidence of such financial gain during Friday’s hearing.

Rebecca Haynie has told police the statements she made about wanting Smith dead were typical of anyone going through a contested divorce, and were not to be taken seriously.

Recorder’s Court Judge Michael Cielinski found sufficient cause to order Rebecca Haynie and Phillips held without bond for Superior Court. The defense attorneys said they will try to get a Superior Court judge to set a bond so the two can gain their release as they wait to see how prosecutors proceed.

“It’s going to be a long arduous process,” said Reynolds. “Obviously I’m going to get together with Mr. Martin. We have some things that we need to discuss with regard to the case. We just started this voyage. We’re going to have to be interviewing witnesses, pulling records ourselves, making a determination of defense strategy and getting ready for this case.”

Of police and prosecutors, he added: “That’s assuming, for the sake of argument, that they want to proceed on this case.”

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