2010-04-21 / Front Page

CONFESSION


Sheriff says suspect admitted fatally shooting 3 people; solicitor will seek the death penalty
By TIM GULLA Ledger Staff Writer tim@gaffneyledger.com

CASS SMITH CASS SMITH In front of local news television cameras over the weekend, Cass Franklin Smith was adamant in proclaiming he had nothing to do with a triple homicide in Cowpens while conceding he was the main person of interest for police.

In front of Cherokee County and SLED investigators, however, the 43-year-old Cowpens resident allegedly offered an entirely different story Monday night.

Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference that Smith confessed to killing his former girlfiend and two others and was now cooperating with authorities as they continue to hunt for evidence, including the murder weapon.

“He had planned this for several weeks before he did it,” Blanton said of the killings. Asked about a motive, the sheriff said he thought Smith offered it while speaking with the media — that he was heartbroken over having to move out of his girlfriend’s home and someone else taking his place.

“When you have three people murdered in cold blood, after premeditation by the shooter, and included among your victims is a child, there is no doubt in my mind what the proper punishment should be.” “When you have three people murdered in cold blood, after premeditation by the shooter, and included among your victims is a child, there is no doubt in my mind what the proper punishment should be.” Seventh Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy said Smith will face the possibility of the death penalty.

“We are in the process right now of serving Cass Smith with notice of our intent to seek the death penalty,” Gowdy said just a few minutes before the paperwork was officially served.

Such decisions are made only after considering the circumstances of a crime, the character of the defendant and the impact of a crime on the community, Gowdy said.

“When you have three people murdered in cold blood, after premeditation by the shooter, and included among your victims is a child, there is no doubt in my mind what the proper punishment should be,” he said.

Smith, of Oakdale Road, is charged with three counts of murder for the deaths of his former live-in girlfriend Suzanne Elizabeth Bridges, 41, her daughter Margaret Wenner, 15, and Harold Benjamin Lick, 45, of Blacksburg.

Blanton said the three people were killed inside Bridges’ home at 102 Emily Lane between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Friday.

Smith allegedly killed the three people with a .38 caliber revolver that he shot through the back window of the home.

“He could see them,” the sheriff said. “They couldn’t see him.”

Smith reportedly lived with Bridges until just a few weeks ago and Blanton confirmed they had an on-again, offagain relationship for as long as six years. When they broke up, Smith moved across the street to 653 Oakdale Road, where he was living with his mother.

Smith was questioned for several hours Saturday, but was released.

On Sunday, he gave several interviews to local television stations, including WSPA in Spartanburg, denying that he had anything to do with the horrific crimes and claiming he had been in North Carolina during the killings. He also acknowledged to television news crews that he was the “person of interest” who was mentioned but not named in media releases from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.

“He actually helped us when he went to the media and identified himself as the person of interest,” Blanton said Tuesday, noting that the media reports caused others to call investigators.

Investigators aren’t releasing many details at this time in regards to witnesses and evidence. Blanton said investigators still have a lot of work to do and more people to interview.

While it was unclear if they were successful as of press time, investigators and divers were searching the Broad River just over the North Carolina border for the murder weapon. Smith allegedly told investigators where he tossed the gun.

Rutherford County, N.C., Sheriff Jack Conner said his office was assisting Cherokee County and SLED investigators since the search was being conducted in Rutherford County’s jurisdiction.

“We’re assisting them in whatever they need,” Conner said, “other than a dive team.”

Rutherford County doesn’t have a dive team, Conner said.

The area being searched was just over the bridge on Highway 221A, Conner said.

The killings weren’t discovered until Saturday at about 8 a.m. when two young boys, one 10 years old and one age 6, awoke and found the lifeless bodies of Bridges, Wenner and Lick.

The boys went to a nearby home and informed a relative. The man went back and discovered the three victims lying dead on the floor, according to a police report.

Without going into any detail about what witnesses said, Blanton said one of the two boys in the home heard the gunshots, as did several other neighbors. He said neighbors in this rural, wooded area frequently heard gunshots, however, and that no one reported the shots fired Friday night.

Smith, who was taken into custody on Monday evening, was arraigned on the murder charges by Magistrate Judge Mike Clary during a 3 p.m. hearing Tuesday.

Clary simply informed Smith of the charges against him, his rights and of some upcoming dates for his first appearance in Cherokee County General Sessions Court.

Smith answered Clary’s questions with simple yes or no answers.

When Clary informed Smith that a Circuit Court Judge would have to set any bond in the case, Smith responded with a question Clary could not answer.

“If (the circuit court judge) does set it,” Smith asked, “how much will it be?”

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