A federal jury sitting in Bryson City found an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians guilty of fatally shooting Erien Amanda Smith on the reservation on May 18, 2010, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
In a superseding criminal indictment filed on December 7, 2010, James Ernest Lespier, 33, of Cherokee, was charged with one count of first degree murder and one count of use of and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. After an eight-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins was assisted in the case by Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, Charlotte Division, and Ben Reed, Chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department.
According to information contained in official court documents and evidence presented at trial, on May 18, 2010 in the early morning hours, Lespier called the Cherokee Indian Police Department, identified himself and advised that “Mandy is dead.” Officers responded to 27 J. Crowe Drive in Cherokee, where Lespier was waiting outside a residence with blood stains on his clothing.
The victim was lying on the floor of the residence, covered in blood and deceased. Lespier claimed that he and the victim argued over prescription medication and that she pulled a gun from an unknown location and began firing. Lespier claimed that he struggled with the victim and that she shot herself. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Additionally, the medical examiner concluded, and evidence presented at trial supported, that the description of events provided by the defendant were not consistent with the wounds which killed the victim.
Lespier, who has been in local federal custody since his arrest on May 19, 2010, faces the maximum statutory penalty of life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set yet.
The case was handled for the government by Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.