Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Schmid: The Pied Piper

The Trials, Part 1

Smitty arrived at the Pima County Courthouse on Tuesday, February 15, 1966, wearing a herringbone jacket and tan trousers. He actually looked fairly clean-cut, and some of the people who saw him remarked how small he was. William Tinney represented him. Tinney had made a motion to exclude the press, which was denied, so reporters filled the courtroom.

Charles Schmid, Jr. at his arraignment.
Charles Schmid, Jr.
at his arraignment.

William Schafer III was chosen to prosecute, with the Honorable Lee Garrett presiding.

The proceedings got off to a bad start when the elderly judge misstated that the defendant had entered a plea of guilty. When he saw the looks that everyone gave him, he hastily corrected himself.

Tinney's first move, with the jury dismissed, was to request a psychologist to come and prove that the jury had been subconsciously influenced by pretrial publicity. F. Lee Bailey had a case pending before the Supreme Court on that very issue. The judge allowed it, but then dismissed psychiatry as a science and refused to postpone the trial for a year, as Tinney had requested. The jury was then brought in.

Thirty witnesses were to testify on the state's behalf to prove premeditation in two murders to cover up a prior murder. That is, they would use a case in which Smitty had yet to be tried as a foundation to try him in the case at hand. Schafer then outlined what he believed had happened, pretty much the way Richie had related it to him.

Tinney turned it around by pointing the finger at Richie as the one with the motive and the one who had done the bloody deed, then had fingered his best friend to get himself off the hook.

Nancy Fritz identified her daughter's articles of clothing found in the desert and then described Gretchen's relationship with Smitty as courteousness. She added that Gretchen had disliked Richie.

Detectives testified that they had found a guitar cord in the desert near the jawbone of one skull, but there was no police photograph to support it. The corpse was too mummified to determine cause of death. They found Smitty's guitar at a pawnshop but could not determine if the cord they found was definitely from that instrument.

A girl who knew Smitty, Irma Jean Holt, testified that she once had asked him why he jumped whenever Gretchen wanted something and he had told her that Gretchen had taken his diary which contained information about a boy he had killed in the desert for involving one of his former girlfriends in a fatal car accident. He also told Irma Jean that he hated Gretchen.

When John Saunders came to the stand, he pleaded the Fifth Amendment to every question, which Tinney claimed was prejudicial in front of the jury. Saunders was removed.

Mary French was next. Tinney objected to her presence, since she could only testify about a crime for which there was no body, but he was overruled. She gave an account of the murder of Alleen Rowe. Tinney brought out that Mary was jealous of Gretchen and angry at Smitty.

Paul Graff, who was brought from New Orleans as a hostile witness, said that he had lived with Smitty for awhile and Smitty had told him about killing a girl in the desert, in the company of Mary French and John Saunders. Paul had been invited to go see the grave, but he had declined. Tinney got him to describe the bad blood between Richie and Gretchen. He said he had never heard any talk of a diary.

The next people on the stand were a husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Morgen, whom Smitty had once taken in, who had witnessed his relationship with Gretchen. Bill was the man with whom Smitty had attempted to start an upholstery business. Morgen claimed that Smitty had told him about the boy he had killed, whose hands he had cut off. He also spoke of Smitty's reference to a diary that Gretchen had stolen that contained a description of this murder. Smitty had said he'd like to kill Gretchen. Mrs. Morgen, too, had heard the story along with the threat, but had not taken them seriously.

Then it was Richie's turn. He spoke evenly and looked without hesitation at his former best friend as he described the events that he remembered. Tinney was unable to shake his story, but managed to get him to admit his ill feelings toward Gretchen.

Then a girl named Gloria Andrews admitted that she had been at Smitty's house on the night when Gretchen turned up missing. Smitty had taken a phone call from Gretchen and then had said, "I'm gonna get that bitch if it's the last thing I do." He had left with Paul Graff, carrying an old black briefcase, and had returned around 1 o'clock in the morning. Gloria had overheard Smitty tell Paul to keep quiet, and Paul had said he "wasn't in it and wasn't going to get in it." Smitty had come in all dusty and unkempt. Paul had left, taking two large butcher knives with him. The next day, Smitty had called Gloria to tell her that Gretchen was missing and "now he could go out with anyone he wanted." Essentially, she contradicted the story Richie had heard from Smitty that he had killed the Fritz sisters there in his living room.

The prosecution rested and Tinney moved for a mistrial on the basis that no evidence had been produced, but the judge said that the evidence was "not weak from a legal standpoint."

Tinney called witnesses who testified to the hostility between Richie and Gretchen. Several of them said that Paul Graff had not been present at the party on August 16th, canceling the testimony of Gloria Andrews. Several of them admitted they had made plans to kill Richie for turning Smitty in.

When Smitty's father took the stand, he virtually demolished the alibi set up by the defense that Smitty had been with his parents or some other couple on the night of the murder. Charles Schmid, Sr. said that he was definitely at his own house and was having a party. His wife, Katharine, however, said that Charlie had come over and watched television with them for awhile. She also said that all of Charlie's guitar cords were gray, while the one found in the desert was black.

After a few more witnesses, one of whom denied that Richie was with him all evening on August 16th as Richie had claimed, both sides rested.

Just over two hours after the jury filed out, they had a verdict: Guilty. The penalty: death.

Yet Smitty still had another trial to face.

 

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