By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Fatal arson case moves ahead
Testimony: Suspects were having affair

It appears a grand jury will determine the next step in a case involving a Forsyth County woman accused of killing her husband and setting fire to their house.

Chief Magistrate Walker Bramblett bound Jill Smith's case over to Forsyth County Superior Court after hearing testimony Tuesday that Smith may have been motivated by an affair and financial gain.

Smith, 34, was charged in December by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office with one count each of felony murder and first degree arson.

Also charged was Peter Delaney, 37, a Forsyth County resident whose case was bound over last month.

Smith and Delaney are accused of killing Smith's husband, Michael Smith, in a blaze Oct. 22 at 5540 Kennemore Drive off Union Hill Road.

Smith's attorney, Phil Pilgrim, argued during the probable cause hearing Tuesday that the evidence was circumstantial and that the prosecution failed to prove a crime had occurred.

Pilgrim said there is nothing to incriminate his client other than her presence in the house.

"There is no evidence of anybody who set a fire," he said.

James Dunn, assistant district attorney, held that the prosecution didn't have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for Tuesday's hearing. He also said the state didn't have to prove Smith actually set the fire.

"Arson is a circumstantial case," Dunn said. "That's the nature of the beast."

Lt. Debbie Lindstrom, an arson investigator with the Forsyth County Fire Department, was the lone witness during Tuesday's hearing.

Lindstrom testified that the state medical examiner's office ruled Smith's death a homicide as the result of thermal burns and smoke and soot inhalation.

She said toxicology results showed Michael Smith's blood alcohol level was 0.14 and that Xanax, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety, was found in his system.

Lindstrom testified that the fire had been set, though she did not know by which suspect.

Burn holes on the floor of an upstairs bedroom indicated an accelerant had been used.

She did not know if there was a conspiracy, only that Jill Smith and Delaney were both "present during the time of the fire."

Jill Smith may have been motivated by their affair and money, Lindstrom said. She had become the sole beneficiary of her husband's $250,000 life insurance policy in December 2009.

Lindstrom said Delaney and Jill Smith admitted to being inside the home at the time of the fire, but gave conflicting stories about their relationship and why Delaney was there. Also inconsistent was Jill Smith's account of where the fire had occurred.

According to Lindstrom's testimony, Delaney told her right away he and Jill Smith had been having an affair and the Smiths' divorce was to be finalized the following week.

He also speculated that Michael Smith may have been depressed and committed suicide.

Lindstrom said Jill Smith described Delaney as a friend of her husband's who had come over for dinner. She denied any marital problems at first, before admitting to the affair in later interviews.

The investigator said Jill Smith told her she and Delaney were in a platonic but special relationship where "he was someone you could lay on the couch with and cuddle."

According to Lindstrom, Jill Smith said she and Delaney had been together since the beginning of 2010. Smith also said she put her husband to bed just before 10 that night after he got "wasted drunk."

After being alerted to the fire, Jill Smith told Lindstrom she had gone upstairs, where she found the bedroom in flames.