Jury out weighing murder evidence

Published 6:35 pm Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Saub trial has taken a week

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

Eric Saub, a man who admitted before a jury that he was a habitual liar, was awaiting a verdict Tuesday in his murder trial in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court. 

The verdict is expected to come after six days of evidence presented by the prosecution, and testimony spanning two days by the accused killer of Jean Marie Smith, whose body was found in the woods in Isle of Wight County in April 2015. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The Commonwealth’s case centered on cell phone records, which placed both Smith and Saub’s phones in the area at the time of her death, as well as DNA found on Smith’s clothing. Testimony alleged that Saub dragged Smith’s body into the woods after she was killed, leaving behind the DNA. Saub’s own conflicting stories about the events surrounding Smith’s death also contributed to the case against him.

Prosecutors also had security footage from a 7-Eleven in Courtland as Saub and Smith returned from a trip to Florida. The store was the last place she was seen alive, according to testimony. 

Her body was found shortly after that trip in a wooded area off Courthouse Highway. Investigators would find Saub’s car days later covered in mud. 

Acting in his own defense, Saub presented seven pieces of evidence, compared to more than 50 by the Commonwealth. 

Most of his defense arguments revolved around the fact that he could not have been with Smith at the time of her death, which was later challenged by cell phone records, and that he and Smith had a close, almost familial relationship.

Saub employed a monotone voice to conduct his defense — a technique he would use for the entire trial. 

In a motion to strike the Commonwealth’s evidence against him, Saub argued that the Commonwealth had tried to “demonize” him and that there was no intent or premeditation to warrant a charge of first-degree murder. 

Saub’s own investigator said he found no fault with how Isle of Wight investigators prepared their evidence. 

On the fifth day of his murder trial, Saub described his relationship with the woman he is accused of murdering, as well as the intricacies of his thievery techniques. 

His monologue would consume the entire afternoon and conclude Monday morning. 

Up until that day, Saub had worn the same gray Field & Stream T-shirt and khaki cargo pants. On Friday morning, a box appeared in court containing clothing sent by his mother. 

Saub selected a too-big light blue polo shirt and dark pants. 

The defendant said he met his victim online. He was living in Oregon and she was in Virginia. They shared similar political views, which Saub described as “uncommon” for someone of his generation. Their conversations about politics, faith in God and their dreams moved from online chatter to the telephone. 

“We had a really close connection from the beginning,” he said.

Saub mentioned that he had been arrested for “a bunch of computer crimes” and with a court date and prison time pending, Smith urged him to come to Virginia. Saub admitted during his testimony that he was facing nine felony charges at the time.

In Virginia, Saub met Smith’s grandmother, Mary Hawalka, who is now deceased, and moved into her home. 

“She was an angel,” said Saub in his flat, unemotional style. 

With Smith, Saub shared a “brother-sisterly” relationship that was not romantic. Saub soon had access to Smith’s bank account information and described how he would make transfers for her and pay some of her bills. 

“I do believe I was a good friend to her,” he said. 

Saub admitted that he lied to Smith about some health issues, but according to Saub, she had told him, “you’re the big brother I never had,” and the defendant appeared to tear up slightly. 

“I’ll never forget that,” he said.

Saub referred to dozens of text messages that were part of the prosecution’s evidence and was expounding on his philosophy of life when Judge John Daffron cut him off.

Saub redirected his testimony and began to describe the trip to Florida, which had provided evidence of their time together immediately prior to Smith’s murder. 

At this point, the testimony became harder to follow because Saub, who is from Oregon, was unfamiliar with the roads and routes the pair traveled as they collected items Saub said he obtained illegally. 

Saub apologized for this, as he did many times during the trial. 

He also claimed to lose his cell phone and relied instead on a prepaid phone that just happened to be in the vehicle they were using. 

By late Friday afternoon, Daffron again cut off Saub’s testimony and said the trial would continue on Monday.

Saub continued to testify in his own defense that morning, reviewing the timeline he had laid out from early April until the current date, again in his unwavering monotone.

Going over the timeline, Saub said, “I never murdered or hurt Jean Marie … I admit I am a liar, but I never lied about hurting Jean Marie.” 

The only time Saub appeared to diverge from his calm demeanor was during the final cross-examination by Commonwealth’s Attorneys Steve Edwards and Georgette Phillips. Saub admitted he was a consistent liar and that he had withheld information from investigators, but he remained firm that he did not hurt or murder Smith.

Managing editor Diana McFarland contributed to this report.