Murder charges advance

Published 12:45 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

First degree murder and other charges filed against Eric Saub, 29, have been sent on to Isle of Wight Circuit Court where Saub will be arraigned May 18. The charges will then be presented to a grand jury.

In a preliminary hearing last week, Judge W. Parker Councill determined that the Commonwealth’s Attorney presented enough evidence to find probable cause against Saub in the case, which he certified to the grand jury. 

Saub, charged with first degree murder, possession of a fire arm by a felon and use of a fire arm in a felony, sat in the courtroom last week in a yellow jump suit, occasionally communicating with his attorney with a blue pen and a small legal pad. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Commonwealth Attorney Georgette C. Phillips brought forward seven witnesses, mostly law enforcement officers involved in the investigation, to testify on what led to Saub being charged.

In her closing argument, Phillips highlighted cell phone data from Verizon towers placing Saub’s cell phone in the area where Smith’s body was found. The data places the phone there after Smith was last seen alive and before her body was found. Phillips also pointed to evidence showing Saub was the last person seen with Smith. Saub’s DNA was also found on Smith’s sweatpants and shoes.

The defense counsel, Julian Bouchard, didn’t bring any witnesses, but in his closing argument said the Commonwealth had failed to present enough physical evidence connecting Saub to Smith’s death.

Bouchard said the investigation failed to produce a gun or a shell casing; and the phone being near where the body was found doesn’t mean Saub was, he said.

Todd West was the first witness to testify for the Commonwealth. He found Smith’s body in the woods on April 17, 2015, about a mile from where the trial was taking place, on a wooded trail off Route 620.

West had permission from the property owner to use the land for hunting. He had seen a turkey there the night before and came back the next day expecting to find more.

Walking down a path large enough for a car, West came to a large mud puddle that caused him to walk off the path, he said. That’s when he noticed what turned out to be Smith’s pink socks, 20 to 25 yards from the trail.

“It wasn’t until I got closer to it that I realized it was a body,” West testified last week.

He called the property owner to let them know and then he called the 911.

When investigators arrived, they took fingerprints and bagged evidence. Multiple deputies from the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s office testified that Smith’s body looked as though it had been dragged by her feet to its final location.

Virginia Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Babatunde Stokes said a gun shot to the back of Smith’s head was determined to be the cause of death.

The fingerprints taken by officers at the scene provided Smith’s name. Her prints were in the system because she applied for a government job that required it. From that, deputies obtained a Hampton address.

When three investigators from Isle of Wight and a Hampton Roads official showed up at the address on April 18, they said Saub answered the door, asked them if he can help.

Officials said Saub laid out a timeline for them. He and Smith had traveled to Florida together just days before and stayed there from April 9 – 14. When they returned to Newport News on April 15, Saub told them he went to Kohl’s, Tropical Smoothie and was dropped off by Smith at her grandmother’s home.

At the time of the victim’s death, Saub was living with her grandmother, but Smith was not because she and her grandmother had not been getting along, officials testified.

Saub described his relationship with Smith as close, “like a brother and sister.” They had met online and Saub moved to Virginia from Oregon and ended up living with her.

The morning of April 15 was the last time Smith was seen alive. Security camera footage from a 7-Eleven in Courtland showed Smith and Saub at the store.

Police officials say Saub told them he went to Walmart after being dropped off. They were unable to confirm this on security footage from the store.

Inside Saub’s bedroom, officials found ammunition and financial documents, including blank checks and account information for Smith and her grandmother.  {/mprestriction}