EBENSBURG – A Cambria County jury heard several hours of testimony Monday about a Johnstown drug dealer’s efforts to discover the identity of the confidential informant who helped put him behind bars in 2014.
That drug dealer, Shakir Mosi Smith, 43, is standing trial on charges of first-degree murder and criminal solicitation of first-degree murder in connection with the killing of the confidential informant, Carol Ashcom, who was shot dead inside her Lower Yoder Township home in March 2015.
Ashcom, 30, was 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.
Testimony about Ashcom’s murder was given during Monday’s proceedings by Smith’s ex-girlfriend, India Snyder, and from three law enforcement officers involved in the case – Agents Thomas Moore and Ryan Caputo of the Office of Attorney General and former Johnstown Police Department Sgt. Thomas Owens.
Moore testified 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. Like all confidential informants, she was assigned an identification number for use in court documents, a move meant to protect her identity.
Madeira had Snyder, 32, testify at length about the inner workings of the “Lynch Mob,” an alleged criminal organization run by Smith out of Johnstown’s Prospect section and made up largely of his sons and nephews, and about the meanings of various lines from the 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 as a result of that raid.
Dozens of additional 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 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 a number 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 indicate Smith’s apparent 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 hell. S—! If Carol goes away, I can get less than that.”
Smith’s court-appointed defense attorney, Timothy Burns, argued during his opening statement 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.” Burns is expected to begin cross-examining Snyder when the trial resumes Tuesday morning.
Another crime that was focused on 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, Shakir Smith came to believe in 2014 that “Chico” was a confidential informant, according to investigators.
Owens said 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.
Nobody has been charged in connection with Jarrett Smith’s death, but investigators alleged in an affidavit of probable cause that Shakir Smith admitted to a witness that he ordered one of his nephews, Jiavon Grandinetti, to kill him.
Investigators have named another of Smith’s nephews, Mizzon Grandinetti, as the gunman who killed Ashcom.
He was 14 at the time and has not been charged in connection with Ashcom’s death.
Both Grandinettis are serving state prison sentences in separate cases, according to Department of Corrections records.