Murder and arson cases dismissed due to interviewer error

By on Monday, February 15th, 2021 in Featured Stories More Top Stories

CANYON CITY – (Press Release from Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter)

In the early hours of July 17-18, 2018, a fire was reported at the home of Terry and Sharon Smith on Nans Rock Rd., near Mt. Vernon, Oregon. Their home was burned completely to the ground. Terry and Sharon Smith, along with their Toyota pickup could not be found.

Subsequent investigation by Sheriff Glenn Palmer turned up remains of two
people found in the ashes of the fire, including part of a rib cage, hip sockets, and other bones. Enough remains were discovered to account for two different people. Death certificates were issued for Terry Smith, based on DNA analysis of human remains, and Sharon Smith, based on her disappearance and the second set of human remains. Sharon Smith’s remains were burnt so thoroughly no DNA remained.

Almost immediately Gabrielle Connery (47), and her son, Isaac Connery (23), became suspects of murder, arson and theft of the Toyota pickup.
The Oregon State Police, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI
joined together in the investigation.

In July of 2020, Isaac Connery was arrested on an Oregon warrant in New Mexico. Officers from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI traveled to New Mexico to interview Mr. Connery in connection of the deaths of Terry and Sharon Smith, while he awaited extradition to Oregon. In the interview, Mr. Connery admitted that he had gone to the Smith residence, where he had an altercation with Terry Smith. Mr. Connery said that Smith had a handgun. In the altercation, Mr. Connery took the gun from Terry and shot him. Mr. Connery then shot Sharon Smith. He used gasoline to start the Smith residence on fire, then took the pickup and left. He drove to the Boise area where he parked the pickup, removed the plates and rejoined his family on their travels. Mr. Connery revealed that sometime later in the family’s travels he disassembled the gun and put it in the trash.

Based primarily on Mr. Connery’s confession to the crimes, he and Gabrielle Connery’s cases were presented to a grand jury. The grand jury indicted both for Murder in the First Degree x 2, Arson in the First Degree and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle. Both Connerys were arrested and held in custody pending trial.

The interview conducted by law enforcement with Mr. Connery was subsequently provided to counsel for the defendants. Motions were made for the interviews and accompanying confession to be suppressed. The motions cited failure of the interviewing officer to make sure Mr. Connery understood his Miranda rights as they were read to him, and to recognize two separate instances in which Mr. Connery requested an attorney.

On February 10, 2021, a hearing on the suppression issues was held in the Grant County Circuit Court, with the Hon. Daina Vitolins presiding. The State presented argument and evidence in the form of the officer’s testimony and video exhibits of the interviews. The defendant presented argument and adopted the video exhibits. Following the hearing the court found that the officer could not show that Mr. Connery understood his Miranda rights. The court also found that Mr. Connery invoked his right to counsel in two separate instances and that the officer continued to question him in violation of his right to counsel. After making those findings, the court ordered that the entire interview including the accompanying confession be suppressed.

Oregon law regarding the advice of Miranda rights is clear, with very recent appellate cases strengthening Mr. Connery’s arguments. While the State expected the court to rule as it ultimately did in suppressing the interview, it remained hopeful that the confession would be allowed.

Without the confession, the State is left with limited circumstantial evidence that does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Connerys murdered the Smiths. Rather than push forward and risk jeopardy attaching, the State will dismiss the murder and arson cases without prejudice. Investigation of the case will continue and possibly other evidence will come to light that will allow the State to proceed. There is no statute of limitation for murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

District Attorney Jim Carpenter said, “We have to deal with the facts as they exist, not as we would like them to be. Connery had the right to be advised of his rights in a way that he understood, and the right to have an attorney present when he requested one. The police must recognize those rights and proceed accordingly. This is heartbreaking on many levels. Through Isaac Connery’s confession, we know who did it and how it was done. The mystery is gone but the accountability is, at least for now, out of reach.”