Jury returns not-guilt verdict in 10-year-old homicide

Michael Smith

GOSHEN — A shooting 10 years ago in north Elkhart remains unsolved after a jury on Thursday night acquitted a Tennessee man who was charged with the murder.

Michael Smith, 32, of Union City, Tennessee, was arrested in May and accused of killing 26-year-old Drake Muncie on Aug. 2, 2009. Muncie was fatally shot outside his home in what remained a cold case for years until DNA evidence allegedly placed Smith at the scene.

A jury found Smith not guilty around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, after more than five hours of deliberation. The decision followed a trial in Elkhart County Circuit Court that began Monday.

Jurors heard that Smith’s DNA was found on a pair of glasses left outside Muncie’s home. It was evidence that Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Don Pitzer called the “elephant in the room” in his closing remarks, adding that it would be speculation to think the DNA got there by accident.

“All the evidence points to this defendant,” he told the jury. “If it isn’t this defendant, then who is it?”

Earlier Thursday, lawyers for Smith had moved for a mistrial after jurors heard testimony that suggested Smith had been in jail. It was something attorney Matthew Johnson said could ruin Smith’s chance at a fair trial.

Judge Michael Christofeno denied his request, and instead told the jury to disregard the witness’s remark.

During a police investigator’s testimony Wednesday, when the jury heard about the suspects who were investigated over the years, Johnson pointed out that Muncie’s wife was reportedly high at the time of the shooting and that it was dark out. Cheryl Tschida had described the killer as a light-skinned black or Hispanic man.

Johnson asked Lt. Kris Seymore if he was aware of anyone ever being wrongly convicted based on a witness’s description, and Seymore answered yes. Seymore also confirmed that Tschida was shown Smith’s picture in a photo array with several other men but did not pick him out.

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