Clad in an orange jump suit, his feet shackled and his hands cuffed, Alphonso Smith proclaimed that he is a changed man, while standing in front of a judge in McDuffie County Superior Court last Friday morning.
The 46-year-old Dearing man said he had discovered God since being jailed for the shotgun killing of his wife, Mary Ann Smith, on March 29, 2008.
Mr. Smith, who is now a member of a Bible study group at the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center, said God had forgiven him and he wanted others to find it in their hearts to forgive him, too.
"I'd like to apologize for any pain and sorrow that I may have caused," Mr. Smith said, as he turned around to address members of his wife's family and his own. "Mary Ann was more than my wife. She was my best friend. And I loved her."
Mr. Smith said he had made peace with God and that he had been saved while incarcerated. He also said he had had time to understand that "accidents really can happen."
Before being sentenced, Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. told Mr. Smith he appreciated what he had told the court, but there were consequences for what had happened to his wife. Judge Dunaway said it was his responsibility to carry out the law and to make sure that justice was done.
The judge then sentenced Mr. Smith to 20 years in prison for the offense of voluntary manslaughter. Originally, Mr. Smith had faced a charge of murder. He also was sentenced to five years on three other charges -- possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and tampering with evidence.
Mr. Smith, who had originally sought a jury trial, pleaded guilty to each of those offenses -- thus saving the county the cost of a trial, which could have lasted several days.
He claimed the killing of his wife was an accident.
Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders contended that Mr. Smith had actually gotten into an argument with his wife at a party before the fatal shooting in the bedroom of the couple's singlewide mobile home near Dearing.
Two of Mrs. Smith's grandchildren -- neither of whom was injured -- hid in a closet when they heard the sound of the shotgun blast.
Mrs. Smith died from the head wound at the scene. Underneath her body, authorities found a machete, which they theorized was placed there by Mr. Smith at the time to make it appear he shot his wife in self-defense.
Mr. Smith and his attorney, Toombs Judicial Circuit Public Defender Harold Wallace, disputed such a theory. Mr. Smith denied ever moving his wife's body. He claimed that his wife had the machete and that he fell down as they struggled over the shotgun -- causing the gun to go off.
The couple was known to argue. Both liked to drink alcoholic beverages and when they did, the arguments became more heated. At one point, the arguments got so bad that Mrs. Smith sought a temporary protective order to keep her husband away.
Mr. Sanders said the argument that led up to the fatal shooting stemmed over Mr. Smith dancing with someone else at the party
Mary Ann Smith's mother, Jettie Mae Embory, of Thomson, told Judge Dunaway prior to her son-in-law being sentenced that he had telephoned her the day before.
"He said, 'Mama, I'm going to kill your daughter,'" Ms. Embory said.
Following the shooting the next night, Mr. Smith called Ms. Embory to say, "Mama, your daughter ain't breathing," she recalled.
The victim's mother said Mr. Smith told her that he and her daughter had tussled over the gun and it went off.
Mrs. Smith's daughter, Stephanie, also spoke, saying it hurts so much to know what happened to her mother and that two of her children still were traumatized by the crimes. She walked away, sobbing.
Virginia Thomas, Mr. Smith's sister, who lives near Harlem, also addressed the court prior to sentencing.
Mrs. Thomas said she had tried on several occasions to get her brother and sister-in-law to stop drinking and to turn their lives around. She said she wanted them to start going to church.
Since the tragedy, Mr. Smith has now become a Christian.
"He's studying and reading the Bible," Mr. Wallace said.