Jury hangs on murder charge in woman's 2013 death
FARMINGTON — A jury last week found Danielle Smiley guilty of kidnapping and battering Danielle Dixon in April 2013, but could not determine whether Smiley was responsible for the 28-year-old Farmington woman's death from internal injuries a month later.
San Juan County District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said Tuesday the hung jury means that Smiley, 32, will avoid a second-degree murder conviction, but she nonetheless faces a mandatory 18-year prison sentence for first-degree kidnapping.
O'Brien said the court could mitigate part of that sentence, but it is rare for judges in San Juan County to do so.
Smiley's attorney, Cosme Ripol, said he will appeal the jury's verdict.
Smiley was charged in Farmington Magistrate Court in July 2013 with kidnapping, aggravated battery and second-degree murder in connection to Dixon's death in Minnesota on May 2, 2013.
According to the arrest warrant, Dixon was assaulted more than a month before her death by Smiley over unpaid drug debts.
Dixon's roommate and Smiley's cousin, Samantha Slowman-Subia, told Farmington police detectives that Smiley showed up at their trailer at 4405 Cardinal Ave. on April 3, 2013, dragged Dixon out of bed and beat her with her fists and feet.
Slowman-Subia said that Smiley's father had given Dixon $20 to purchase drugs for him, but Dixon never did so, which upset Smiley, the warrant states.
Dixon was taken to the San Juan Regional Medical Center the day after the attack and treated for two fractured ribs, the warrant states.
On April 8, 2013, Dixon left Farmington and moved to Rosebud, S.D., to live with her mother, according to the warrant.
Less than two weeks later, Dixon was transported by ambulance to Rosebud Indian Hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia, acute renal failure, hepatitis and thrombocytopenia, which is a reduced platelet count, according to the warrant.
She was eventually transported to San Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where she died on May 10, the warrant states.
Dr. Robert Reichard of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester autopsied Dixon on May 11 and determined that Dixon's fractured ribs caused her pneumonia, which ultimately caused her death.
O'Brien said Reichard testified to that fact at Smiley's trial last week, but the defense presented an expert witness who cast doubt on Reichard's conclusion.
"Sometimes you have a battle of the experts, and when you have two witnesses with great résumés, it is difficult for a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said his office could refile murder charges against Smiley, but the family was satisfied with the 18-year prison sentence.
Ripol said it was ironic that Smiley faces a harsher sentence from the kidnapping conviction than if she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
"So Danielle Smiley is looking at more time for dragging Danielle Dixon out of a bedroom, getting into an argument with her, and punching her and beating her, than if she would have been convicted of murdering her," Ripol said.
He said he will bring that issue to the attention of the court in his appeal.