John Garrett Smith was found guilty by a Washington court of assault and attempted murder for beating his wife so severely he believed her to be dead. According to the Daily Beast, Sheryl Williams was left with a swollen face, broken nose, concussion, injured back, and brain damage.
A key piece of evidence used to convict Smith was a voice-mail left on his cell phone. The couple had reportedly started to argue when Williams called the phone to help Smith locate it. Smith didn’t pick up, and the call went to voice-mail, recording the beating.
“Where is my phone?” Smith asked on tape, according to the appeals decision. Williams then said, “Look what you have done to me!,” to which Smith replied, “I will kill you.”
Smith’s recorded threat to kill Williams was enough to convict him of attempted murder and send him to prison for 12 years. But his lawyers appealed the decision based on the fact that Williams never consented to be recorded in the first place (Washington is a two-party consent state), and the appeals court agreed.
“Standing alone, Sheryl’s screams would not constitute a conversation,” Judge C.J. Bjorgen wrote in his decision. “However, these screams were responsive to statements that John was making. Within this context, Sheryl’s screams serve as an expression of sentiments responsive to John’s yelling and thus constitute part of a conversation.”
For his part, Smith and his lawyers claim his death threat wasn’t literal. “I never intended to hurt Sheryl, let alone kill her,” he wrote in a letter to the court. “Any inference otherwise is simply false.”