A defense attorney and prosecutor delivered their opening statements Thursday in the trial of a Hemet man charged of devising multiple failed assassination attempts on Hemet police officers in 2009 and 2010.
Nicholas John Smit, 41, faces multiple life sentences if convicted of 12 charges including five counts of attempted murder on a police officer, conspiracy, being in possession of a zip gun, attempting to ignite an incendiary device in the commission of a felony.
“Smit was angry about being arrested,” Deputy District Attorney Daniel Delimon told jurors in his opening statements at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.
Defense attorney Bob Gazley, told the jury his client does not have to prove his innocence and the events presented are merely a coincidence.
“If it were not for the coincidence of the victim, of Det. Johnson, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “Evidence shows it’s the perfect storm of coincidences.”
Smit’s initial arrest stemmed from a search warrant in June 2009. During that search, officers found a safe located in Smit’s home with drugs, a handgun, Smit’s personal items and drug paraphernalia, Delimon said. Delimon told jurors the incident triggered Smit’s anger toward Hemet police detective Chuck Johnson and the attacks against him.
Delimon said the attacks began on Dec. 7, 2009 when a booby trap was found outside Johnson’s Hemet home. A cord had been attached to Johnson’s left rear tire on his police-issued unmarked car to a toy-hauler beside it. Near his personal vehicle was also a Ponji board, as Delimon described as a board with nails driven through it like stakes.
On Feb. 23, 2010, a zip gun was found attached with black tape to the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force office gate. The homemade gun was rigged to fire when an officer pushed the gate open, Delimon said. Delimon said Johnson was the intended target, but that morning Hemet police Sgt. Matthew Hess rolled the gate back and the shot fired barely missing him, according to authorities.
On March 5, 2010, a similar device was found attached to Johnson’s unmarked vehicle. Johnson was at an am/pm about one mile from his home when he began to back up his car, then ran something over, Delimon said. What Johnson ran over was another zip gun device loaded with a .03-06 round, intended to penetrate through the driver’s compartment, Delimon said.
On July, 6, 2010, another homemade gun was found rigged to another unmarked police car issued to Johnson when he took it in for service, Delimon told jurors.
Delimon presented a cart-full of evidence to jurors including the zip guns used in the attempted attacks and the Panji board found next to Johnson’s personal vehicle on Dec. 9. 2009. He assembled the zip guns to show the pieces required to put it together. Included was black tape where a DNA analyst was able to match Smit to the device.
“Sometimes rage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s a quiet voice that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow,’” Delimon said.
Gazley said that anger is not evidence and attacked the DNA evidence.
“DNA evidence didn’t mention it was linked to Smit and says nothing when the DNA was put on materials and when it got to the crime scene,” Gazley said. “Smit was not the only one upset with Johnson. A lot of evidence shows it was not Smit. Seventeen different people were submitted to be tested. That DNA evidence did get ball rolling, but I don’t believe any other suspects were looked at and maybe they should have been.”
Smit is being held without bail at the Southwest Justice Detention Center.