Zachary Smith convicted of first-degree murder

By Suzanne Williams swilliamsprairiepress@gmail.com
Posted 11/22/21

The Paris man who shot and killed his neighbor following a verbal altercation was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Following two hours of deliberation Thursday, Nov. 18, in Edgar County …

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Zachary Smith convicted of first-degree murder

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The Paris man who shot and killed his neighbor following a verbal altercation was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Following two hours of deliberation Thursday, Nov. 18, in Edgar County Circuit Court, the jury delivered a guilty verdict against Zachary Smith, 30, for killing Matthew Morgan at approximately 7:30 p.m. June 8 in the 600 block of West Arthur. Morgan lived across the street from Smith’s trailer home.

Edgar County State’s Attorney Mark Isaf called the state’s witnesses to the stand Wednesday, Nov. 17, to describe how events unfolded that fatal night. Public defender William McGrath placed Smith in the witness box on Thursday.

Smith said Matthew Morgan and his wife, Avery Morgan, were driving at a fast rate of speed and nearly hit Smith’s daughter who was riding a bicycle in the road. Avery Morgan proceeded to cuss and yell at the four-year-old which prompted Smith, who testified he was protecting his daughter, to yell back. This initiated a verbal argument.

Smith’s testimony differed from the other witnesses about the events that occurred the evening of the shooting.

In his version he and fiancée Tabitha Brewer, who was nearly full term in her pregnancy, went to an obstetrician appointment in the morning and returned home in the afternoon. Later that evening, Smith said he heard Avery Morgan cussing at his daughter and threatening to run over her the next time she was in the road. Smith replied don’t talk to my daughter that way which prompted murder victim Matthew Smith to yell back at Smith for shouting at Morgan’s wife.

Smith told the jury, when the anger and war of words did not end, Matthew Morgan, who was retrieving his daughter from the back seat of the family vehicle, put the baby in the car seat in the driveway and proceeded to charge at his yard and property. Meanwhile, Smith told his daughter to go inside, and he went in the mobile home to tell fiancée Brewer what was happening.

The defendant opened a safe and retrieved his .38 caliber handgun telling the court he did so for protection after being threatened.

According to Smith, Morgan had shouted “Don’t yell at my wife...I will put you in the ground.”

Smith again exited the trailer and said he observed Matthew Morgan charging across the street approaching his property in what he regarded a threatening way. He told Morgan to stay in his own yard.

“He didn’t stop and continued to advance,” Smith testified, adding he again warned Morgan to stop and not enter the yard.

Several such warnings were issued Smith said but Morgan did not stop charging. He claimed Morgan also made a move to retrieve a large knife from his pocket.

“I felt like my life was in imminent danger and pulled the gun up and shot,” testified Smith.

At that point, Smith dropped the firearm and immediately began delivering medical treatment to Morgan who was bleeding from a single gunshot to the middle upper chest area. The state’s witnesses previously confirmed that portion of Smith’s story.

When law enforcement arrived, Smith was administering CPR to Morgan and admitted he was the shooter. He was taken into custody and later interrogated by the Illinois State Police at approximately 11:45 p.m. at the Paris Police Department.

“I was afraid he was going to lunge at me with the knife,” said Smith.

There were differences between Smith’s testimony and that provided by state’s witnesses during the first day of the trial.

Smith indicated the evening of the altercation was the first time he saw Morgan’s knife. However, the murder victim’s wife, Avery Morgan, along with friends and family, testified Morgan always wore the hunting knife on his belt in a black sheath strapped to his belt in his pants pocket.

Avery Morgan testified Smith’s family along with her family and extended family often socialized, of as she phrased it hung out together, in the yard and garage, enjoyed meals and barbecues together and were close friends seeing one another on a daily basis. Therefore, Avery Smith found it unusual the verbal altercation eventually escalated to her husband being shot.

Morgan and her household members testified to the events on June 8, including emotional testimony from 11-year-old Maycee Tretter, whom the Morgan’s babysat. After witnessing the shooting, Tretter called 9-1-1 to report the incident and a recording of the call was played in open court. The young girl was heard sobbing in the recording as she reported Smith had shot Morgan in the front yard of the Smith’s trailer home.

Additional testimony was heard from members of the Morgan family, a next-door eyewitness, Paris Police officers, Illinois State Police personnel and the first medical responders at the scene.

After the guilty verdict was read by presiding judge Steven Garst, the victim’s family sobbed along with the convicted man’s fiancée and parents.

Garst ordered a presentence investigation and continued the matter for a Dec. 29 sentencing hearing. A first-degree murder conviction carries a sentencing range of 20 years to life.