Originally created 03/31/04

Man blames two in death



The man serving life in prison for firing a bullet into the head of 27-year-old Willie Rhodes testified Tuesday that the death never would have happened if not for two of his former co-defendants.

Michael Smith, 44, told the Richmond County Superior Court jury that Oliver D. Nelson, 38, was the one who asked him to rob Mr. Rhodes of drugs the night of Feb. 23, 2003, and that Kindra D. Mathis, 21, set Mr. Rhodes up.

"At first, they said there was a greenhorn with drugs," Mr. Smith testified.

Mr. Nelson and Ms. Mathis are on trial in the death of Mr. Rhodes.

Mr. Smith testified that he was supposed to rob Mr. Rhodes of crack cocaine and split the drugs with Mr. Nelson, also giving some to the people who drove him to the Bohler Avenue home where Ms. Mathis was waiting with an unsuspecting Mr. Rhodes.

The killing, Mr. Smith testified, was an accident that occurred when the gun went off after he hit Mr. Rhodes in the head with it.

"At that particular time I was high. I was an addict," Mr. Smith said. He would do just about anything to get crack, he told the jury.

After Mr. Rhodes was shot, Mr. Smith went through his pockets but couldn't find any cocaine, he testified. He said he left the home, as did Ms. Mathis.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Smith said he assumed Ms. Mathis identified him as the man who killed her boyfriend because she was the only person in the home that night who knew him. He insisted, however, that without her involvement, Mr. Rhodes would still be alive.

He also insisted that two other people initially indicted on murder charges - Valerie A. Leecongdon, 40, and Candice L. Peel, 40 - knew nothing of the planned robbery. Both were allowed to plead guilty last fall to hindering the apprehension of a criminal and received five-year probation sentences.

Murder charges against a sixth person, Charles T. McMillan, 45, will be tried at a later date. Like Mr. Nelson and Ms. Mathis, Mr. McMillan maintains his innocence in Mr. Rhodes' slaying.

Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to murder Dec. 11 and received a life sentence.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.