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Arson suspect wants cases split
Two to face trial in fatal blaze
Smith WEB
Jill Smith - photo by For the Forsyth County News

A woman accused in connection with a fatal arson at a south Forsyth home wants to be tried separately from her co-defendant.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson heard arguments Friday for and against Jill Smith’s request to sever her case from Peter Delaney’s.

Smith, 34, and Delaney, 37, pleaded not guilty in March to one count each of murder, felony murder and first-degree arson. Both of their requests for bond have been denied.

Smith’s husband, Michael Smith, was killed in a blaze Oct. 22, 2010.

Authorities have said Smith and Delaney were having an affair.

Dickinson said he’d make a decision on Smith’s request after he receives copies of statements the defendants made to authorities who investigated the case.

Smith’s attorney, Kyle Epps, said jurors could misconstrue evidence against Delaney as also being against his client. He added that evidence he plans to use that implies Delaney was involved with Michael Smith’s death could confuse the jury if his client and Delaney are co-defendants in the trial.

“Imagine how awkward it’s going to be to try to put a defense like that together,” Epps said.

Delaney’s attorney, Rafe Banks, has filed a motion for a speedy trial. Epps said that request presents problems for his client’s defense.

“We’re being dragged along with another defendant simply because that defendant has filed for a speedy trial,” he said. “We’re simply not ready to go yet.”

Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn countered that neither Smith nor Delaney implicated the other’s guilt in interviews with authorities or admitted to any involvement in a criminal act.

“They denied there had been an arson,” she said. “They have not pointed the finger at each other.”

She also said that not being ready to go to trial is not one of the factors to be considered in Smith’s request.

“This case was indicted in March. It has been on at least two trial calendars,” she said. “We are long past the time to file any additional motions.”

Forsyth County Fire Lt. Debbie Lindstrom testified during a probable cause hearing in February that the fire had been set, though she didn’t know by whom.

She also said evidence in an upstairs bedroom indicated an accelerant had been used and that the medical examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide as the result of thermal burns and smoke and soot inhalation.

Lindstrom testified that in 2009, Jill Smith became the sole beneficiary of her husband’s $250,000 life insurance policy and may have been motivated by the affair and money.