EBENSBURG – A Cambria County jury Tuesday heard more of the state’s case against a Johnstown drug dealer and alleged gang leader who’s accused of ordering the murder of the confidential informant who helped put him in prison.
Shakir Mosi Smith, 43, is standing trial in Cambria County court on charges of first-degree murder and criminal solicitation of first-degree murder in connection with the killing of Carol Ashcom, 30.
Evidence presented on Monday and Tuesday included letters Smith sent to an associate from prison, recordings of phone calls he made and in-person visits he received while in jail, Ashcom’s cellphone records and the testimony of three jailhouse informants who said Smith discussed the case with them.
Smith had Ashcom killed because her cooperation with law enforcement was key to the drug case against Smith, argued Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Madeira, who is prosecuting the case with the help of Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Forrest B. Fordham III.
“She made a mistake that cost her her life,” Madeira said in his opening argument Monday.
“She crossed the defendant. She thought she could tell on the defendant and get away with it.”
Smith’s court-appointed defense attorney, Timothy Burns, argued during his own opening statement Monday that the prosecution won’t be able to show that Smith gave a direct order or command to kill Ashcom. He asked jurors to keep their minds open and to give Smith the presumption of innocence to which he’s legally entitled, despite the fact that he’s not “a model citizen.”
Thomas Moore, a narcotics agent with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General who was one of the lead investigators of Ashcom’s murder, testified Monday that Ashcom agreed to become a confidential informant for the Office of Attorney General after she was busted selling drugs in April 2014.
Later that month, she conducted three controlled buys of drugs from Smith, which led to his arrest on drug charges a few weeks later.
She was found shot to death on March 11, 2015, inside her home in the 600 block of Virginia Avenue, Lower Yoder Township, in March 2015.
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday. It’s being overseen by Judge Patrick T. Kiniry.
‘She had to go’
Smith allegedly discussed Ashcom’s murder with several fellow inmates who testified about those conversations on Tuesday.
“I was talking about all these rats,” testified a state prison inmate who was locked up with Smith at a county jail after Ashcom’s death. “All these people telling on everybody, and I said, ‘Nobody does nothing about it.’ He said, ‘I do. … You didn’t see that s– on the news? Yeah, that Carol b–. She thought she was gonna tell on me.’ ”
“He told me he was in there because some girl snitched on him and his ‘young-uns’ killed the girl,” added another man who was incarcerated with Smith at a county jail last year.
This second informant testified that Smith “got the word out” to his associates through letters and phone calls that Ashcom was the informant in his case. He didn’t use the word “kill,” the informant testified – “just simply let it be known that she snitched on him and she had to go.”
A third jailhouse informant testified that Smith told him that his nephew killed Ashcom.
Also testifying on Tuesday was a woman who was acquainted with Mizzon Grandinetti, Smith’s nephew, who has been named by investigators as the gunman who killed Ashcom. He was 14 at the time and has not been charged in connection with Ashcom’s death, but is serving a state prison sentence in a separate case. The woman testified that Grandinetti admitted to her in 2018 that he had killed a woman.
“He told me that he stand over this white b– and he shot her in front of her son because he was scared of her being a snitch,” the woman said.
Grandinetti didn’t mention his victim’s name, but did show her Facebook profile, the woman testified. The name associated with that profile was “Carol,” she recalled.
‘I’m MAD as hell’
Jurors heard testimony from Smith’s ex-girlfriend, India Snyder, 32, who spoke at length on Monday about the meanings of various lines from a cache of letters written to her from jail by Smith.
Law enforcement obtained eight of those letters when a search warrant was executed at Snyder’s Kernville home on July 31, 2014 – before Smith knew Ashcom was the informant in his case. Snyder and a Johnstown man named Edward Merritt were arrested and charged with drug offenses as a result of that raid.
Dozens of later letters to or from Smith were discovered during later searches of Snyder’s mother’s home and of Smith’s cell at Cambria County Prison, Moore testified. Snyder testified that she preserved the letters “just in case something happened to me” – defying Smith’s orders in many of the letters to destroy them.
“Please don’t slip with these letters. FLUSH!” he wrote on one occasion.
A number of Smith’s letters to Snyder from jail indicate that he was carefully examining the state’s case against him to determine who its anonymous confidential informant was: “I kan’t (sic) stop trying to figure out who these fake 3 sells are from,” he wrote in one letter. “My gut is saying Carol. But I’m really not sure.”
Later, after he became more certain that Ashcom was involved in the case against him, he wrote to Snyder: “I’m not doing no 6 to 15. She gotta go. She killing me. I’m MAD as hell. Please throw this s– out. My whole defense is shot from you keeping them letters.”
Eventually, he confirmed Ashcom’s role by comparing the identification number of the informant in his case to that included in another defendant’s paperwork: “I went to court again on Friday. I found out it’s Carol on the new sells. Maino went to court. First thing I did was have him check his CI #. 509114. It was her. The same as mine.”
Statements in later letters show Smith’s belief in Ashcom’s importance to the prosecution: “We are f–ed unless the white b–h go.” “I know without Carol, I’ll be so Gucci.” “I get that 3 to 6, I’ll be happy as h–. S–! If Carol goes away, I can get less than that.” (Smith ultimately did plead guilty to several felonies and was sentenced to three to six years in state prison, contemporary news reports indicate.)
In a letter postmarked Jan. 23, 2015, Smith wrote, “I want that Honkie put down like a rabbit DOG! Look what this b– did to us. Go off that b–.”
“Tell Sheek to show Los where that honkie lives,” Smith wrote in a letter to Snyder postmarked Feb. 28, 2015, less than two weeks before Ashcom’s murder. The line was allegedly an order for Snyder to tell Smith’s son, Shakir Smith Jr., to show Grandinetti, whose nicknames included “Los” and “Carlos,” the location of Ashcom’s home.
Snyder testified that Grandinetti and another of Smith’s sons, Shyheim Smith, came to her home to get gloves a couple nights before Ashcom died. She said they didn’t tell her what they needed the gloves for, and she didn’t ask.
In the summer of 2015, after Ashcom’s murder, a wiretap installed by the Office of Attorney General captured several conversations at Cambria County Prison between Smith and his visiting girlfriend, Lisa Newcomer, who was apparently then concerned about testimony she was expected to give to a state grand jury.
Newcomer said she knew she would be asked questions about what was said during her recorded phone conversations with Smith.
Smith reassured her that the only things they’d discussed during those conversations were an unspecified tax issue and a quantity of money she’d retrieved from inside the wall of his home – but Newcomer responded, “And telling me to ride past what’s-her-name’s house.”
“Who’s house?” Smith said.
“Carol’s,” Newcomer replied. “When you were like, ‘Did you take the boys over there?’ ”
Smith reacted angrily to the mention of Ashcom’s name, replying that they’d never said anything about “whoever that motherf–er was you said a minute ago” and asking Newcomer whether she was wearing a wire.
In another recorded visit, Smith and Newcomer discussed the possibility that he could face federal charges – but Smith said there was nobody who could prove he’d sold drugs to anybody “because the last person they set that thing up with, rock-a-bye, baby.”
‘No mercy, man’
Much of Snyder’s testimony on Monday and Tuesday had to do with the inner workings of the “Lynch Mob,” the criminal organization allegedly run by Smith out of Johnstown’s Prospect section and made up largely of his sons and nephews, including Shakir Smith Jr., Shyheim Smith, Mizzon Grandinetti and Jiavon Grandinetti. (One of the jailhouse informants testified that Smith told him that the word “Lynch” in “Lynch Mob” was an acronym for “Lil Young N–s Catching Hommies.” “Hommies” was short for “homicides,” he added.)
Smith maintained a strict level of control and influence over the members of this group, according to Snyder, who testified that none of them did anything without Smith’s orders.
“He would tell you what to do, what not to do, who to be with, who not to be around,” Snyder said.
The prosecution presented evidence having to do with an alleged “beef” between the Lynch Mob and a Hornerstown man named Richard Agurs, nicknamed “Noog.” After Lynch Mob members kicked Agurs out of Prospect, Agurs retaliated by firing a shot at members of the group in Hornerstown, according to testimony from Agent Ryan Caputo, of the Office of Attorney General.
In a recorded prison phone call from the summer of 2014, Shyheim Smith is heard reporting to his father that he and Jiavon Grandinetti had been walking with a group of girls on Ash Street when “Noog” approached them and fired a shot, but missed. Smith scolded Shyheim for entering Agurs’ territory without a weapon and instructed him to be ready to retaliate.
“You’re better than that,” he said. “No mercy, man.”
In another recorded call, made a few days later, Snyder is heard reporting to Smith that Agurs had been shot the night before. Smith responded by laughing loudly and ordering Snyder to make his boys something good to eat as a reward.
“That’s what he get, f—ing around,” Smith said. “Lynch Mob, I love them.”
‘A dangerous dude’
Another crime discussed during Monday’s proceedings was the murder of Smith’s cousin, Jarrett “Chico” Smith, inside his Prospect home on Aug. 15, 2014.
Jarrett Smith and Shakir Smith were cousins, but were raised together by their grandmother and often referred to themselves as brothers, according to testimony. However, Smith came to believe in 2014 that “Chico” was a confidential informant, according to investigators.
Thomas Owens, who until 2016 was the sergeant in charge of the Johnstown Police Department’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, testified that Jarrett Smith did express a desire to cooperate with law enforcement after he was busted selling drugs in February 2014, but never followed through; still, he added, the fact that Jarrett Smith wasn’t jailed after that bust probably raised suspicions that he was informing.
There were some similarities between the scene of Jarrett Smith’s murder and that of Ashcom’s, testified Owens. Both murder victims were found lying on couches inside their homes. Neither scene showed any signs of forced entry or a struggle. In both cases, a revolver was believed to be the murder weapon – although Owens acknowledged during cross-examination by Burns that no weapon was recovered and that different weapons could have been used.
Nobody has been charged in connection with Jarrett Smith’s death, but investigators alleged in an affidavit of probable cause that Smith admitted to a witness that he ordered Jiavon Grandinetti to kill him.
Smith was a fan of the television show “The First 48,” which shows police detectives attempting to solve murder cases, because “it basically teaches you how to get away with stuff,” Snyder testified. He apparently used the show’s name as a euphemism for homicide – in a recorded phone call, he told Shyheim, “Don’t let any of the motherf—ing f—s ‘First 48’ you.”
One of the informants who testified on Tuesday said Smith had a “formula” that he believed would allow him to get away with murder – leave no witnesses, get rid of the gun and leave no physical evidence behind.
“You can catch as many homicides as you want if you follow that formula,” the informant said, repeating a statement allegedly made by Smith.