Investigators have a "substantial lead" in the 3-year-old unsolved slaying of Daniel "Mack" Smith Jr., thanks to calls from tipsters to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, according to a department spokesman.
The calls came after the victim's widow, Ashley Smith, attracted nationwide attention last weekend as the hostage of Brian Nichols, who is accused of killing a judge, a court reporter, a deputy and a customs agent in Atlanta. Before leading police to her captor, Mrs. Smith said she spent about seven hours talking to him in her Duluth, Ga., apartment, at one point mentioning her husband's unsolved homicide.
Mr. Smith died in August 2001 after he was stabbed in the heart during a brawl outside Applecross Apartments in Martinez. Police estimate the brawl involved 10 to 15 people, including Mrs. Smith.
Two people were charged with voluntary manslaughter, but investigators were unable to establish a clear chain of events or find a witness to testify.
The charge was dropped against one of the men for a lack of evidence, and the other man was never indicted.
Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said someone called the department Tuesday morning and gave four names, two of which investigators already had. Another person called with more information, which Capt. Morris said he hopes could lead to an arrest.
"We're very optimistic," Capt. Morris said.
Capt. Morris said Tuesday that there had been speculation that the fight might have involved accusations that Mr. Smith was a police informant, but he has been unable to substantiate that.
Mr. Smith, a carpenter who had a baby daughter with his wife, had been in trouble with the law several times in Richmond and Columbia counties, in some cases over small amounts of marijuana.
In October 1999, he and his wife were charged with simple possession stemming from a fight outside the Time PieceZ nightclub on Broad Street. The charge was dismissed.
Mr. Smith's mother, Cindy Smith, of Mayo, Fla., said her son never gave information to the police after his arrests. However, because he was a friend of some deputies, he often got blamed whenever anyone in his circle was arrested, his mother said.
Ms. Smith said that after talking with her daughter-in-law, she believes her son went to the apartment complex the night he died to confront friends over a name he had been called and that their argument led to a fight.
Barry Keith Tabor, who lived in the apartment, was initially charged in the killing. Though he was never indicted in the Smith case, he was charged two years later with armed robbery, burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in the robbery of a man in Waynesboro, Ga.
Mr. Tabor testified against his two co-defendants, receiving 10 years' probation while another man got 45 years in prison and another got 10.
Ms. Smith, who has kept in touch with her daughter-in-law over the years, was elated that her heroism in Duluth, which has already earned her a $10,000 reward for the capture of Mr. Nichols, might also bring closure in her son's case.
"Maybe that's why God had it happen," said Ms. Smith, 58. "I mean, Ashley came out all right, and maybe that's what it's all about is to find Mack's killer."
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.