Trial to be held at Stecoah


Commissioners finalizing details with center


Robbinsville – Social distancing protocols has forced the county’s hand.

At the July 21 Graham County Board of Commissioners meeting, County Manager Becky Garland informed everyone that after an extensive search, the Stecoah Valley Center was the only location in Graham suitable of hosting the Superior Court trial of James Jay Smith Sr., who has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill.

The county’s aging courthouse does not have a jury deliberation room large enough to ensure proper social distancing protocols, necessitating the move. The trial was set to begin Aug. 10, but has been moved to Nov. 9. 

Graham County has more time to finalize an agreement with the center, which would see metal detectors moved to the facility for the trial and expenses for security to be stationed at Stecoah. The center is compiling data to support its request of charging the county $700 per day for use of the facility.

Smith was 77 at the time of the alleged July 2016 incident in Fontana Heights. Both Smith and then 48-year-old Joseph Shaffer shared a private driveway, but a dispute between the neighbors led to Shaffer being shot in the throat. Smith suffered a gunshot wound in the hand during the exchange.

District Attorney Ashley Welch opted to pursue charges over the incident after an August 2018 incident between Smith and his wife in Fontana Heights. Officers arrived on the scene and found Smith’s wife, Brenda, in the driveway, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the hand. According to authorities, Smith was standing armed with a shotgun, but was later taken into custody without further incident. He was later charged with two felony counts of attempted first-degree murder for the incident and held on a $1 million bond for the 2016 alleged shooting.

Also at the meeting:

* Tennessee Valley Authority Senior Vice President of Generation Construction & Project Services Bob Deacy was joined by two other TVA representatives at the meeting. Deacy updated the board on the progress made with Fontana Village Resort, indicating that Baker Construction has been on site performing routine maintenance and upkeep, and will be the interim operator once the resort reopens. However, Deacy stopped short of declaring a date for the resumption of operations, citing the need for upgrades to electrical equipment and structures.

* Garland presented the financial report, stating that the final unrestricted cash balance for the 2019-20 fiscal year – which closed June 30 – was $7,955,098.69, $117,000 more than what the county closed with in 2018-19. Also included in the report was the amount of back taxes collected since July 1, 2013, totals $627,889.87.

* Since the county only received two bids for sanitation trucks – rather than the minimum of three required on first request – bids will be sought again.