Convicted killer to spend 15 years in prison

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 7, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Marion Preston Gillespie will spend at least the next 15 years in prison for the 2003 murder of his girlfriend.
Presiding Superior Court Judge W. Erwin Spainhour sentenced the 56-year-old Gillespie to the maximum allowed Thursday. That’s between 20 and 25 years for second-degree murder. With credit for time already served, he could be out in 15 years.
Gillespie was back in court after the N.C. Supreme Court ordered a new trial for him, saying the court should have heard testimony related to his mental competency at his original trial in 2004.
Spainhour called it the most heinous, atrocious, and cruel crime he has seen in 39 years of practicing law and serving on the bench.
On June 15, 2003, Gillespie stabbed 50-year-old Linda Faye Smith eight times and slashed her 33 times in the bathroom of the home they shared at 640 Knox School Road, Cleveland.
She had just left a women-only party ó primarily of family members ó where they had planned the menu for Father’s Day dinner the next day.
A medical examiner testified many of the wounds on Smith’s hands were defensive. One of the wounds, a deep slash of her neck went to the bone and severed major arteries.
Looking at a photo of Smith’s body in a bathtub filled with blood, Spainhour said he still remembered the photo from five years ago during the first trial. “This is especially heinous and cruel … look at the picture,” Spainhour said, “that makes you want to throw up. ”
District Attorney Bill Kenerly acknowledged defense and state testimony that medicine Gillespie was taking may have caused diminished mental capacity. But Kenerly called Gillespie a “poster child for domestic violence,” and asked for the maximum sentence.
On Tuesday, Gillespie agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder.
In 2004, Gillespie was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The N.C. Supreme Court ordered a new trial, saying the court should also have heard testimony about side effects of a drug he was taking. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Dec. 8, 2004.
The Smith and Gillespie families were seated on either side of the courtroom Thursday, listening intently to the day of testimony and arguments before the resentencing.
Three of Smith’s children were horrified when they accidentally saw a crime scene photo of their mother’s mutilated body in the bathtub.
Court officials, including Kenerly, apologized to her daughters, Shauna and Demetrice Smith, and brother, who left the courtroom in tears.
Shauna Smith read a letter written by her mother and discovered in a box some six months after her death.
The letter apparently written to Marion Gillespie called on him to stop trying to control her and being suspicious. “I pray not to be called a b—- or a whore. I deserve better,” it read.
Gillespie, in orange prison garb and wearing shackles, continuously wrote on a yellow legal pad, often talking with his attorney, Harold Bender of Charlotte.
Dr. Charles Vance, a psychiatrist at Central Regional Hospital in Raleigh (formerly Dorthea Dix), said he could not say what Gillespie’s mental state was on June 15, 2003, when Smith was killed.
But Vance said a peginterferon medication Gillespie was taking for Hepatitis C has side effects that cause depression, irritability, delirium and paranoia.
Vance concluded the drug and its potential side effects were a significant mitigating factor ó a requirement for dropping the charge from first degree to second degree murder.
Dr. Nathan R. Strahal, a psychologist testifying for the defense, said the interferon is a miracle cure for Hepatitis C, but has a “black box warning” for potential side effects that include violent episodes.
Kenerly repeatedly asked the medical experts if they knew Gillespie had been married twice and about domestic violence problems in his second marriage.
They said they were not aware.
And Kenerly referred repeatedly to testimony in the 2004 trial that Gillespie had told people he could kill somebody and get away with it by claiming medical problems.
Gillespie has maintained he remembers almost nothing of the night he killed Smith. Kenerly argued he didn’t buy a lapse of memory, suggesting an angry Gillespie was sitting at the kitchen table eating a watermelon when Smith came home after midnight.
Kenerly said they likely exchanged words in the bathroom ó and Gillespie took a knife and killed her. He then washed his hands and the knife before leaving the bathroom.
At the outset of the hearing, Kenerly called Myrtle Gillespie, a former wife of Marion Gillespie.
She testified about violent episodes during their marriage that led her to get a restraining order at one point. She said Marion Gillespie was constantly jealous of her, believing she was seeing other men. She got a divorce after eight years of marriage.
Gillespie’s family members later testified they never heard of any problems.
Bender questioned Myrtle Gillespie about visits to her ex-husband while he was in the Rowan County Detention Center. She said she visited him but said she never sent any letters. She changed her testimony after Bender showed her letters, pictures and a Christmas card.
Marion Gillespie took the stand briefly, telling about growing up in South Carolina. He said he had two tours of duty in the Army and admitted serving time in prison. He got a less than honorable discharge that eventually was upgraded to an honorable discharge.
He serves as president of the Veterans Club in Central Prison.
Of the night he killed Smith, Gillespie said he remembers going to the Cleveland Police Department and then to the Magistrates Office in Salisbury, trying to find a law enforcement officer. He told the officer he had hurt Smith.
Several of Gillespie’s brothers and sisters from Charlotte testified about growing up in a large family and loving each other. All referred to Marion by a family nickname, “Punkin,” describing him as good natured, always laughing and joking.
“I loved Faye too,” Richard Gillespie, one of nine siblings, said referring to Smith. “It’s a tragedy.”
Sandra Gillespie Howie, a sister, said she observed changes in her brother as his medical problems worsened and he began taking interferon. She said he would drive to her home in Charlotte and sit in the car, not coming in the house.
Smith’s family had asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence, telling the judge that they no longer have a mother or grandmother. The judge followed that request.