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Man faces life in prison for Acampo double murder

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Howard D. Smith

Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:35 am, Sat Dec 24, 2011.

To avoid the death penalty, a man pleaded guilty to the March killings of an Acampo man and his elderly father, who was a World War II veteran.

Howard Daniel Smith, 34, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole in exchange for admitting he shot both Jonathan Meagher, 49, and his father, William Meagher, 84, at their home on the 24000 block of North Homestead Lane in Acampo on March 25.

Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of premeditated murder. He was also charged with assault with a firearm for firing at the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend, hitting him in the foot.

Deputy district attorney Thomas Testa said he agreed with his office's decision to accept Smith's plea, despite the fact that Smith "basically executed" the elder Meagher.

"Rarely do I think that someone deserves the death penalty, but in this case, I think it would have been appropriate given his criminal record," he said. "With the death penalty system so broken here in California, there was no way they would have gotten to (Smith) in his lifetime."

According to a summary released by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's office, Smith, a recent parolee, went to the Meaghers' Acampo residence in March intending to steal Jonathan Meagher's motorcycle to "get back" at him.

Smith was supposedly angry with Meagher because he had accused Smith of stealing a gold and silver coin collection while Smith helped Meagher clean his home some time last year.

On March 25, Smith went to the residence and visited with his ex-girlfriend, Lori Ann Irvine, who also lived on the Meaghers' property, but in a separate house.

Once he visited her, the statement reads, he hid and waited for both Jonathan and William Meagher to leave their residence.

After the two men left, Smith broke into their home, where he said he could not find the motorcycle keys, but instead found multiple guns, including a 9mm Luger and a Maadi rifle, an AK-47 assault rifle, according to the statement.

Instead of stealing the motorcycle, Smith decided to steal the guns and knives, the statement reads, but he was interrupted when Jonathan and William Meagher returned home in William Meagher's Toyota Prius.

When Jonathan Meagher entered his home, Smith, who had hidden behind a television, jumped out and confronted him with the 9mm Luger, stating he wanted Meagher's motorcycle because it was Meagher's "pride and joy."

According to the statement, Smith said he and Meagher went into an office to find the ownership papers for the motorcycle, but that while Howard was distracted, Meagher attempted to run away, closing the door to the office behind him.

Smith fired one shot through the office door, then ran after Meagher to have him return to help find the pink slips.

He also switched guns, taking the Maadi rifle, the statement read, because the Luger had jammed.

Once outside, Smith saw Meagher running toward the Prius before collapsing, where Meagher succumbed to a single gunshot wound to his abdomen, the report stated.

Smith realized that he had killed Meagher, according to the statement, and then took William Meagher at gunpoint into the house, where he fired one shot into the man's back, killing him.

According to the statement, Smith did not want to kill William Meagher, because he liked him — but because he had been witness to his son's murder, Smith believed he had to kill them.

Smith then headed back to Irvine's house, revealing that he had killed the two men and that he wanted her to assist him in getting away, the report stated.

When Irvine and her boyfriend, Gary Morris, refused to help and hid in the basement of her home, Smith fired a shot at the door leading into the basement, hitting Morris in the foot.

Smith then attempted to flee from San Joaquin Sheriffs deputies in Morris's truck, but soon crashed the vehicle.

Relatives of the victims originally asked for the death penalty for Smith, but have since said their main priority is to make sure Smith is never again released from prison, according to the statement.

Originally, Smith said he did not want a lawyer to represent him in court, but a judge eventually was able to convince him to accept representation because he faced a potential death sentence.

Smith, who has been in prison twice before, is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on Jan. 13, 2012 at 10:30 a.m. in Dept. 34 in Stockton.

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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