Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Within the Walls

"I'm Not a Nice Guy!"

During 1982, Attorneys Kunstler and Mason prepared their case while Smith remained incarcerated in Downstate Correctional Institution at Fishkill. There, he sent letters to various county and state officials complaining about everything from the quality of the food, racial discrimination and abuse from prison staff. In an indexed 70-page letter to County Court Judge Raymond E. Aldrich, complete with chapter divisions, page numbers and drawings, Smith said that his life was in danger. "There is a saying in legal terms, if a man carries a deadly weapon, he is a potential murderer. Its (sic) quite apparent that Corrections Personel (sic)  do carry deadly clubs," Smith wrote, "and Mr. Rojas (a prisoner who had recently committed suicide) and Donna Payant erase all doubt about Corrections personel (sic) being "potential murderers." He mused that no county judge who was sympathetic to his situation could ever be re-elected and that "Department of Corrections, affiliated agencys (sic), their friends and associates have adjudged me guilty, before trial, and have become part of the Department of Corrections plan to harass me, to persecute me, to mentally and physically abuse me, and eventually take my life, by any means at their disposal."

Lemuel Smith's letter to Judge Aldrich
Lemuel Smith's letter to
Judge Aldrich (Author)

Smith was also aware of the controversial aspect of the death penalty law in the State of New York and the importance of the Payant case. He described her as "the only female correction officer who has been murdered while alledgedly (sic)  on duty inside of a maximum security correctional facility." He wrote "it is a known fact the death penalty laws can not be tested unless I am found guilty and many politicians have already taken positions in the upcoming debate, and the only hold up is a guilty verdict in Dutchess County Court." Smith said that a guilty verdict was a forgone conclusion and blamed a hostile population for his expected fate. This was because "the jury is to be selected  from Dutchess County where a large segment of the population is Department of Corrections personel (sic), and those affiliated with Department of Corrections".

Despite his claims to innocence, however, Smith was not exactly an ordinary American citizen. In prison for most of his adult life and convicted of two vicious murders in 1977, he had confessed to killing at least five people according to police investigators. There may have been even more. "All of a sudden, one night, after taking my girlfriend to the movies," Smith told a judge, "I killed my best friend's mother...believe me, I'm not a nice guy."

For the next several months, Kunstler and Mason introduced a series of motions to the court involving issues such as trial venue, applications for case dismissal, witness credibility, special prosecutor and various conspiracy theories that usually involved prison guards murdering Payant to keep her quiet about renegade correction officers. The court had to deal with each motion, which sometimes required weeks of review.

But by the end of 1982, the defense had run out of ideas and the trial was finally scheduled for January 1983.

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