Manager guilty of killing company intern in Pa.

November 21, 2008 11:59:48 AM PST
A businessman who hosted gay sex parties at his house was convicted of drugging a company intern, trying to rape him and then strangling him when the victim fought back.

William Smithson, 43, of Glen Mills, faces a possible death sentence after the jury Friday convicted him of first-degree murder in the death of Jason Kyle Shephard, whose body was found in Smithson's home in September 2006. Smithson was also convicted of attempted rape, kidnapping, drug and other charges.

Defense lawyer G. Guy Smith tried to blame the crime on another man who supplied drugs to Smithson and who lied to police about when he left Smithson's home the night of the killing.

The jury deliberated over two days, and could have returned a second- or third-degree murder verdict.

A gag order that remained in effect Friday kept lawyers on both sides from commenting on the verdict. Shephard's parents - who sat in court during opening statements Monday holding a framed photo of their son - have also been declining comment. They cried as the verdict was announced.

Shephard, 23, was an avid runner from Cavalier, N.D., a small town near the Canadian border, who was studying sports marketing. He had taken a semester off from Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to work at Daktronics, a scoreboard manufacturer.

Shephard met Smithson, a supervisor for Daktronics, when Shephard visited the Pennsylvania office on a summer 2006 business trip. He returned in September 2006 to give a product demonstration.

In the hours before he died, Shephard had watched an adult movie in his hotel room and called several friends on the phone, prosecutors said. Smithson apparently then picked him up and brought him to his house.

Thomas Lawrie, an assistant Delaware County prosecutor, told the jury that Smithson slipped the date-rape drug GHB to Shephard at the house, then started undressing him. Shephard apparently was conscious long enough to put up a fight and suffered defensive wounds on his arms and fingers. He was also punched in the face and then strangled, Lawrie said.

Smithson later called an ex-lover, Daniel Hall. Hall, who lives in Virginia, testified that he traveled to Pennsylvania, saw the body at the house, encouraged Smithson to call police and left when he refused, Lawrie said.

Smithson filed a missing person report on the absent intern, and picked Shephard's parents up at the airport when they came to the area to look for him.

Hall contacted authorities later that week. Police, acting on a tip from the Virginia authorities, found Shephard's naked body in Smithson's house and arrested Smithson beside his grandmother's grave.

Shephard's former girlfriend Lindsay Patterson, of Sioux Falls, S.D., told jurors during this week's trial that Shephard never did drugs and was "very conservative, probably what you would call homophobic."

Smithson's attorney suggested to the jury that the man charged with bringing drugs into Smithson's home the day Shephard died, F. Bruce Covington, 58, of State College, may be the killer. Covington, a former director of development at Saint Joseph's University, at first denied being in the home that night but later told police he was asleep in the basement, investigators said.

Covington was called to the stand in the trial, but invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. Jurors were told only that Covington faces criminal charges in connection to this case.

A key witness for the defense was a self-described "responsible drug addict" who knew Covington. The man, who said he been using meth for 15 years, testified that Covington once sexually assaulted him by slipping him a date-rape drug. He also said that Covington had sexual fantasies that included knocking someone unconscious and having sex with him.


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