News Briefing

Smithson hearing set for next year

William F. Smithson, a gay man convicted of murdering a coworker six years ago, is scheduled to be back in court early next year for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he should get a new trial.

The two-day hearing begins 9:30 a.m. Jan. 14 at the Delaware County Courthouse, 201 W. Front St. in Media, in a courtroom to be announced. Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor will preside.

In August, Dozor said an evidentiary hearing was necessary before he decides whether Smithson should have a new trial.

A prior evidentiary-hearing date of Oct. 17 was canceled because Smithson’s attorney, Henry DiBenedetto-Forrest, requested more time to prepare, according to court records.

DiBenedetto-Forrest had no comment for this story.

He replaces Stephen D. Molineux, another court-appointed attorney for Smithson, who was dismissed from the case after he publicly stated that Smithson’s petition for a new trial lacks merit.

In 2008, Smithson was convicted of murdering coworker Jason Shephard and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

According to the prosecution, Smithson lured Shephard into his home, slipped him the “date-rape” drug gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), then strangled him to death in the course of trying to rape him.

But Smithson contends that Shephard willingly came to his home on Sept. 18, 2006, partly for the purpose of having sex — which the two men had also engaged in the day before, according to Smithson.

In his petition for a new trial, Smithson refers to another man in the house, F. Bruce Covington, as a “prime suspect” in the murder.

However, Covington was never called as a witness during Smithson’s trial.

Smithson maintains his innocence, and contends that his trial attorney, G. Guy Smith, served ineffectively during his murder trial.

Smithson claims his constitutional rights were violated because he wasn’t given an opportunity to confront several witnesses who testified against him during his 2008 murder trial.

Instead, others testified on their behalf — or read statements to jurors that purportedly were made by the witnesses.

Those witnesses include a serologist and toxicologist whose findings contributed to the belief that Shephard had GHB in his system when he died, and Smithson’s niece.

City sees November Scouts deadline

A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the city’s request to extend the deadline for filing its opening brief in its federal appeal to evict a local Boy Scouts council from a city-owned building.

The original deadline was Aug. 28, but the panel has extended it to Nov. 19.

The judges on the panel are Theadore A. McKee, Dolores K. Sloviter and D. Brooks Smith.

In their Oct. 19 order, the judges also granted the city’s request to exceed the word limitation for the appeal from 14,000 words to 21,000 words.

The city said it needed the extra words because of the “complicated” nature of the case.

The Scouts have 30 days to reply to the city’s brief, once it’s filed with the court.

Then, the case will be assigned to a panel of judges for a ruling. Both sides also may be given an opportunity to present oral arguments in the case.

Since 2008, the city has been trying to evict Cradle of Liberty from 231-251 N. 22nd St. because the council refuses to accept gays, nor will it pay fair-market rent.

But in 2010, a federal jury ruled that the city’s eviction attempt placed an unconstitutional condition on the Scouts’ first-amendment right of expressive association.

The city, however, contends that jurors weren’t given an opportunity to adequately consider a rental-payment option that the city offered the Scouts in order to remain in the building.

In March, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter upheld the jury verdict, and also ordered the city to pay the Scouts $877,122.07 in legal fees.

Also in their Oct. 19 order, the three-judge panel denied the city’s request to file two appeals — one focused on the legal fees, the other on the eviction dispute. The judges said the city must cover both issues in one appeal.

— Tim Cwiek

Cheer on Sapphire Fund

LGBT grantmaking agency Sapphire Fund will be cheering on the Eagles for a great cause this weekend.

From 1-4 p.m. Oct. 28, Sapphire will host a fundraising party at Field House, 1150 Filbert St. Guests can enjoy food, drinks and the company of fellow Eagles fans. All proceeds for the event will go to the Sapphire Fund, whose 2012-13 beneficiaries are The National Adoption Agency and Child Advocates.

No RSVP is needed.

For more information, visit www.sapphirefund.org.

— Angela Thomas