A Life Interrupted: A guilty verdict

Chapter 12: Trials and Tribulations

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Special prosecutor Thomas A. Hampton stood behind the laptop computer that blinked images of Anthony Proviano onto a wall for the jury. His Feb. 13, 2006 opening statement, tinged with accents of his Georgia upbringing, slowly began building the murder case against Marlene "Slim" Smith.

She watched from the defense table, her orange prison jumpsuit replaced with a dark blue pants suit, her bleached blonde hair now gray. Earlier competency hearings had certified her for trial in the 9-year-old murder, but even in the darkened Belmont County, Ohio courtroom people could see her inexplicably break into broad grins as Mr. Hampton told the jury of her involvement.

During his 40-minute presentation, Mr. Hampton revisited the history of the investigation -- Mr. Proviano's plan of joining his parents at their Baldwin Borough home for Christmas, his renting a room at the St. Clairsville Days Inn, his body found with a single chest wound, the original suicide ruling by the former Belmont County coroner, the prison inmate's letter that first implicated Ms. Smith, her effort to sell Mr. Proviano's car.

Over the next week as the trial moved forward, the principles testified: Carmen and Maryann Proviano, Baldwin police Officers Matthew Kearns and Robert Artman, former investigator Olen Martin, Ms. Smith's ex-husband Doug Main, former heroin ring leader Charles Dailey Jr., Baldwin Police Chief Chris Kelly.

There were others, like Dr. Jeffrey Lee, chief forensic pathologist in Licking County, Ohio. On an enlarged photo of Anthony Proviano's face, he placed a life-size overlay of the gun that killed him. The parallel marks on the right side of Anthony Proviano's forehead not only were inflicted on him "right around or just prior to his death," the doctor said, but they matched the raised edges of the gun's handle.

And like Kim Reising, a Baldwin police officer, who had been in contact with Ms. Smith for three years. At 2:17 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2003, Marlene called her and left a voice message, but forgot afterward to hang up her own phone.

The tape recording was a cacophony of shouts and curses. One part, however, was very clear.

"I'm a murderer!" Ms. Smith shouts. "You heard that? I'm a murderer!"

And like Leslie Long, owner of a master's degree and a nine-year sentence for attempting to murder her husband. She and Ms. Smith became friends while both were in the Belmont County Jail from March to September 2005. She recalled Ms. Smith kept a newspaper photo of Anthony Proviano on her cell wall.

Ms. Long had anonymously mailed documents to the special prosecutor that were found in the jail trash. The papers were discovery documents that Ms. Smith's attorney had given her. In the margins, she had scribbled various things, including "His name was Tony. He wanted to party. He was so soft + sexy, very much a gentleman."

The documents were important to Mr. Hampton not so much for what they said but for leading him to someone who had talked with Ms. Smith. And in court, Ms. Long's testimony was potent.

"[Marlene] told me she was starved" for drugs, Ms. Long said. She said that when she was on drugs "she was very bold, not afraid to do anything. She liked to torture people.

"She told me he had been hit in the head with a gun three times and that he had been shot. She led me to believe she was not alone. She just always said the name 'Doug.' "

Mr. Hampton hammered all the points home in his closing statement.

"She was responsible," he said of Ms. Smith. "She feels guilty. She was there. She shot him. She killed him."

After 10 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury returned its verdict: guilty.

On a back bench in the courtroom, Carmen and Maryann Proviano hugged and cried.

Jury members, who had steadfastly avoided looking at Anthony Proviano's parents, now stared sadly at them.

After her attorney said he'd appeal, Marlene Smith was led out in handcuffs into a phalanx of TV lights.

She just smiled.

Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Listen in

Charles Dailey Jr., former heroin gang leader and key witness for the prosecution:
On the conviction of Marlene Smith
On Marlene Smith as a heroin addict
On the emtional impact of the case

Thomas A. Hampton, special prosecutor:
On the outcome of the criminal case
On how the case affected him, and how some details may never be known

Doug Main, once a prime suspect, found not guilty of obstruction and perjury charges earlier this year :
What he was feeling as the jury deliberated in his trial
Why he does not think Marlene Smith was guilty
How the case continues to hang over his life

Eric Ayers, The Martins Ferry Times Leader
Maryann and Carmen Proviano express relief at the Belmont County Courthouse moments after a jury found Marlene Smith guilty of the 1997 murder of their son, Anthony.
Click photo for larger image.

Marlene Smith


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