Jury begins deliberating whether Jason Smith should get death penalty
The jury in the Jason Smith murder trial will begin deliberations this afternoon on whether Smith should receive the death penalty for killing four people.
During the testimony phase Friday morning, a former warden of the Menard Correctional Center in Chester described for jurors Friday what life would be like for convicted murderer Jason Smith if they sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"People generally have the wrong idea about prisons," said Roger Cowan. He worked at Menard for 31 years before retiring six years ago. "Working for one, I can say they are very difficult, very hard places to do time. It's not easy for the inmates."
Menard is a maximum security correctional facility, one of three in Illinois. Inmates sentenced to life in prison never leave the maximum security prison, Cowan said.
He showed photographs of the 8-by-10 foot prison cells he would live in 18 hours a day and the open showers he would share with multiple inmates three times a week.
Cowan testified during the penalty phase of Smith's trial after the jury found Smith guilty on four counts of first-degree murder for the shotgun deaths of his former girlfriend Nicole Willyard, 19; her 9-week-old baby Jason Smith; and her friends, Mary Cawvey, 19, and Brandon Lovell, 23.
The four were murdered in Cawvey's apartment at 212 S. 44th St. in Belleville on Oct. 5, 2005.
Witnesses also testified on behalf of Smith for nearly five hours Friday morning, and described a respectful, quiet, caring man who enjoyed fishing and the outdoors but disliked crowds.
The nurse who treated Smith after his attempted suicide following the murders said he asked her to "inject him," and asked her how she could stand to look at him after he'd done such a horrible thing.
"He was extremely sorry for what he had done," said Beth Strong, a nurse at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville. "When he first came to us he was fairly unresponsive, but when he become more wakeful he was crying. He said he wasn't a bad person, how could he have done such a horrible thing? I sensed it was a tremendous heartache and deep, passionate pain that brought him to that point to try to commit suicide."
The jury will deliberate on the evidence this afternoon. All 12 jurors must agree to sentence Smith to lethal injection for him to receive the death penalty.