Man once deemed mentally unfit will stand trial

NORTH VERNON — A Jennings County man accused of fatally stabbing a man whose home he lived in is scheduled to stand trial for murder in February after the judge in his case initially determined he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

William Steven “Billy” Smith, 47, was initially charged in the death of Robert Dale Boyd, 56, in May 2021.

He also is accused of setting fire to Boyd’s property in the 100 block of West Walnut Street in North Vernon in an effort to destroy evidence, according to the probable cause affidavit filed by Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding.

Smith faces additional felony counts of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, arson, obstruction of justice and possession of methamphetamine and a misdemeanor charge of resisting law enforcement.

Smith’s trial is set for Feb. 27 before Jennings Circuit Judge Murielle Bright at the courthouse in Vernon. Bright has notified parties in the case there will be no continuances.

Belding has filed notice with the court he intends to submit forensic and lab evidence, including fingerprints on the knife that Smith is accused of using and DNA evidence that the prosecution will argue proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith killed Boyd.

More than two dozen prosecution witnesses may be called to testify, including another man who lived in the home and who authorities say discovered Boyd’s body and extinguished the fire.

Authorities say other witnesses observed Smith with “a lot of blood on his person” the morning of the killing, and when asked about it, he claimed it was from a cut on his leg. Smith then allegedly asked those witnesses for a ride to a relative’s home, but they declined.

Authorities also say Smith was seen fleeing from the residence with a duffel bag containing items belonging to Boyd — items authorities say were found when Smith was arrested in the afternoon of May 11, 2021.

Smith also purportedly had a “hit list” of other people he wanted to kill, authorities said after he was arrested.

Belding did not respond to requests for comment, and Columbus attorney Benjamin Loheide, Smith’s court-appointed public defender, said he makes it a practice to never comment on pending cases.

Mental illness an issue

According to court records, shortly after Loheide was appointed to represent Smith, he asked the court to order an evaluation of his client’s mental fitness to stand trial.

After the court did so, two doctors filed reports. Those confidential reports led Bright to issue an order on Nov. 1, 2021, declaring Smith “presently does not have comprehension sufficient to understand the nature of this criminal action against him and to make defense thereto.”

The judge stayed Smith’s criminal case and ordered him committed and confined to a state mental hospital designated by the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

Once a defendant is ruled unfit to stand trial and is ordered committed to a state mental hospital, state law requires the facility superintendent to certify to the court within 90 days whether there is “a substantial probability” the defendant will gain the comprehension needed to understand his criminal trial proceedings and make a defense.

“Until such time and because the defendant is a threat to himself and others, he is ordered to be transported to an appropriate secure facility for his own safety,” Bright’s order in Smith’s case concluded.

But court records show the judge’s order that Smith be committed wasn’t carried out for six months.

‘Help me get to a mental hospital’

In the meantime, Smith pleaded with the court in a handwritten letter on Dec. 1, a month after Bright’s mental health commitment order.

“I got papers from U court on the 1st of November. They say I am supposed to go to mental hospital for help,” Smith wrote in a letter addressed to Judge Bright from the Jennings County Jail.

“I not doing good. Ive been asking for medication for my mental illness since June. … They say they can’t help me can U please help me get to a mental hospital … All they do is lie to me be mean to me and pick on me … Please please help …”

Many of the court documents in Smith’s case are confidential, including the reports from doctors who evaluated his mental health.

After Smith was determined not mentally fit to stand trial in November of 2021 and ordered committed, Indiana law requires a period of treatment and evaluation lasting three months. At the end of that 90-day period, a determination must be filed with the court regarding the person’s mental capacity to stand trial.

Smith ultimately was transported in May 2022 to Logansport State Hospital. In August, the hospital and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction certified Smith was then mentally fit to stand trial.

Had the state determined Smith did not have “a substantial probability” to gain the comprehension necessary to stand trial, state law would have required his indefinite commitment to an appropriate secure state mental hospital.

Marni Lemons, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, said the agency could not comment on specific cases.

However, she noted the division “launched a reform project in June of 2022 with the objective of reducing the average wait time for competency restoration services” such as the one that had been ordered for Smith. Lemons said as forensic referrals had risen 205% over five years, wait time rose to an average of more than four months before the reform project. She said the wait time is projected to be reduced to four weeks by July 1, 2024.

“As of today, we have reduced the average number of days a person must wait to 35 days from the day we receive an order to admission at a hospital,” Lemons said last week.

Violent past, pled down

While the reports detailing Smith’s mental health remain under seal, available public records show he’d had many violent convictions and charges in Jennings County.

A month before he was charged with Boyd’s murder, Smith was charged with invasion of privacy for allegedly violating a protection order. That charge was dropped during the pendency of Smith’s murder case.

Court records show Smith had a felony conviction for battery in 2001 and for misdemeanor resisting law enforcement and battery with bodily injury in 2009.

In 2014, he was charged with felony strangulation and domestic battery in the presence of a child. He pleaded guilty to the strangulation charge and was ordered to serve 180 days, minus 90 already served, followed by a year of probation.

Less than a year before Boyd’s killing, in June 2020, Smith was charged with four felonies accusing him of a serious domestic violence attack in which Belding’s office filed notice with the court that the state intended to seek enhanced penalties because of Smith’s prior domestic violence-related conviction.

Smith was charged in the June 2020 case with criminal confinement with moderate bodily injury, strangulation, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and domestic battery. The most serious of those charges carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years upon conviction. Potentially, if convicted on all counts, Smith could have faced a sentence of more than 20 years.

Court records show, however, that in November 2020, Belding’s office and Smith’s court-appointed counsel in that case, James Funke of North Vernon, negotiated a plea agreement. The state dropped all charges except one of the lowest-level felony counts, domestic battery.

On Nov. 24, 2020, Smith pleaded guilty to that Level 6 felony count. Then-Jennings Circuit Judge Jonathan Webster sentenced Smith to 360 days in the Jennings County Jail with credit for 129 days already served.

Less than six months after that sentence was imposed, Smith was arrested again, this time charged with Boyd’s murder.


May 11, 2021: Robert Dale Boyd, 56, is found dead from a knife wound to the neck in the 100 block of West Walnut Street in North Vernon. William Steven “Billy” Smith, who lived in the same house as Boyd, is arrested on suspicion of murder and held without bond in the Jennings County Jail. Another man who lived in the house is a witness in the case, authorities say.

May 19, 2021: Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding formally charges Smith with murder, robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, arson, possession of methamphetamine, obstruction of justice and resisting law enforcement.

May 21, 2021: At an initial hearing, Jennings Circuit Judge Murielle Bright appoints Columbus attorney Ben Loheide as Smith’s public defender.

July 19, 2021: Smith’s defense attorney moves for an evaluation of his mental competency to stand trial, which the court grants on July 29.

Nov. 1, 2021: After Smith is examined by two doctors to evaluate his mental competency and their reports are filed to the court, Judge Bright issues an order determining Smith “presently does not have comprehension sufficient to understand the nature of this criminal action against him and to make a defense thereto.” She orders that Smith be committed to a mental health facility by the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction for further treatment and evaluation. Under state law, the superintendent of the facility where Smith is committed must notify the court within 90 days of commitment whether there is a substantial probability Smith can attain comprehension to understand the proceedings and make a defense.

Dec. 2, 2021: In a handwritten letter addressed to Judge Bright, Smith writes that he is still in the jail in Vernon a month after the judge’s order to transport him to a mental health facility for treatment and further evaluation. “I’ve been asking for medication for my mental illness since June. I still am not receiving medication for my mental illness,” Smith writes. “They say they cannot help me. Can U please help me get to a mental hospital …. all they do is lie to me be mean to me and pick on me … please please help(.)”

May 2, 2022: The Jennings County Sheriff’s Department notifies the court that it plans to transport Smith to Logansport State Hospital on May 9 — more than six months after Judge Bright ordered him “to be transported to an appropriate secure facility for his own safety.”

Aug. 4, 2022: After three months of treatment and evaluation at Logansport State Hospital, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction certifies to the court that Smith is mentally fit to stand trial. He is transported back to the Jennings County Jail the following day.

August 2022: Bright grants the state’s motion for a jury trial with no further continuances and sets a final attorney conference and trial dates for February 2023.

Oct. 21, 2022: Belding files a notice of intent to introduce forensic and lab reports, including DNA and fingerprint evidence, alleged to connect Smith to Boyd’s killing.

Feb. 27, 2023: Smith’s trial is set to begin in Jennings Circuit Court.

Sources: Court records,, Republic research