News Article Details

Son found not guilty by reason of insanity in Fairhaven mother's 2017 death

Bellingham Herald - 8/7/2018

Aug. 07--A man who's accused of stabbing his mother 20 times, killing her in their Fairhaven home in March 2017 will be sent to Western State Hospital indefinitely to receive mental health treatment.

Sheaen Emmette Smith, 31, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to second-degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon (domestic violence) for the death of his mother, Aurora Buol-Smith, Monday afternoon in Whatcom County Superior Court. Smith, who was being held in the Whatcom County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail for the last year, will likely be sent to Western within the week, said Starck Follis, his public defense attorney.

"There is no explanation for this case, other than he was insane. He had no motive to murder his mother. It was just his perception of what she was and what he was that led him to this. He felt that he had no choice. He was clearly in a state of psychosis when contacted by law enforcement and immediately after the act. " Follis said. "This is one of those cases where it's sad, but someone that simply lacks the mental ability to understand right from wrong is not held to answer, in terms of prison, for his actions."

While at Western, Smith will work to be rehabilitated so that he may be released one day, Follis said. Smith would only be released if mental health officials felt he was no longer a danger to society, and would be closely monitored, Follis said.

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"It's a graduated release. It may start with just being able to go to Subway for a sandwich and come back within the hour or to have a job off campus," Follis said. "But the ultimate goal at some point is to release him back into society to function as one of us."

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey said a lot of work went into the case to determine Smith's mental health at the time of the crime. Richey said he wanted to be sure the murder didn't happen in a meth-induced rage, and that Smith truly didn't understand the difference between right and wrong at the time of Buol-Smith's death.

"It's tough. It's not the normal way we go about handling cases. I think most people would like to see there's a clear black and white, right and wrong, and that's not what we had here. We had something that was more difficult, something in the gray area. We had someone who was in a mental illness episode that caused this to happen, and that makes these things difficult for everyone," Richey said.

Shaean Smith 1.jpg

Sheaen Emmette Smith exits the courtroom after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity on Monday in Whatcom County Superior Court in Bellingham. Smith was accused of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of his mother in their Fairhaven home in March 2017.

Evan Abell

After he entered his plea, Smith addressed the courtroom. In a quiet voice, he said he was thankful to the attorneys who handled his case and the family that still supports him.

"To all those who stuck with me and continued to love me, I give thanks for that. And also I want to give thanks to my good friend Jesus Christ because he did something amazing and I can only hope to achieve that," Smith said.

Smith's aunt, LeiAnne Sparhawk, said the loss of Buol-Smith has fractured the family and that many, including her grandchildren, would not know her loving support or feel her warm embrace. She said Buol-Smith was the glue that kept everyone connected.

"Her death is felt deeply by all members of her family and friends. She was all about the human spirit. She was wise, compassionate, caring and it showed in everything that she did," Sparhawk said. "So even with what I know about this incident, it's important for Sheaen to know that he's loved, and in this way I choose to memorialize my sister."

Judge Deborra Garrett said she was touched that Smith's family and friends had sought help for him days before the murder. Garrett said she doesn't have the answers for what it would take for the family to come to an understanding of what happened, but believed Buol-Smith would have agreed with her sister.

"This family has endured a terrible tragedy. It's a mark of your wisdom, collectively, that you have continued to support Sheaen and that you are here in his support today while not wavering in your commitment to Aurora," Garrett said. "I hope for the sake of the people involved that this day will launch a new chapter in which the grief can be not quite so raw and that Sheaen can embark on his efforts to lead a good life and to make his mother proud."

mother stabbing

Sheaen Emmette Smith was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder for stabbing his mother to death in this duplex in the 1500 block of McKenzie Avenue in Bellingham in March 2017.

Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Around 2 p.m. on March 5, 2017, Smith made a disturbing 911 call where he talked about werewolves and vampires, and said his mother needed help, according to Bellingham police. When officers arrived, they found Buol-Smith dead on the ground floor of the duplex in the 1500 block of McKenzie Ave., according to court records. She was 57.

An autopsy showed Buol-Smith died hours before police arrived, according to Dr. Gary Goldfogel, Whatcom County medical examiner. Buol-Smith had suffered stab and cut wounds to much of her body, and had what appeared to be defensive wounds, an autopsy showed.

Officers found Smith, Buol-Smith's son, upstairs in a bedroom. Smith admitted to stabbing his mother and told officers he did it because he believed he was a werewolf and she was a vampire, records state.

Smith also drew a picture of where he left the kitchen knife he used in Buol-Smith's death, and officers found it inside the house where he said, records show.

Smith had been treated at St. Joseph Hospital three days before the murder for psychosis related to methamphetamine use, records state.

He had moved back into his mother's house in Bellingham after a breakup with his wife, according to court records.

Buol-Smith was a licensed practical nurse since the early 1990s and worked at a local senior home.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt


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