Deputy murder trial: Witness who called 911 testifies

Daniel Willis

BASTROP (KXAN) — The woman who made the 911 call the night Yvette Smith was shot and killed by a Bastrop Deputy said the entire chain of events started earlier on in the day and was later accelerated by an argument between father and son.

Amy Vela lived with boyfriend Chris Thomas and testified he was involved in a fight with another man. In that altercation, Thomas injured his leg after being hit by a car according to Vela. It was the first of two 911 calls to the home on Zimmerman Avenue the day of February 16th, 2014. It was the second call which brought then deputy Daniel Willis to the home where he shot and killed Smith.

Willis is now on trial for Smith’s murder and lost his job with the Bastrop Sheriff’s Office after being indicted. Dashcam video and taped interviews with Willis in the days following the shooting have been played for the jury, but Vela provided the first look at what was happening inside the home prior to Willis arriving.

Vela testified she along with Chris Thomas, his father Willie Thomas, and Yvette Smith went and had a few drinks at a bar before returning to the home. Willie Thomas and Yvette Smith were dating and Vela spoke fondly of Smith being a kind woman who never showed any signs of a violent nature. But the situation arose when Willie Thomas asked his son for the keys to his motorcycle because he did not want Chris Thomas trying to drive with an injured leg according to Vela. The father and son began to argue and Vela called 911 after Willie asked her to do so. While on the phone with dispatchers, Vela said she saw Yvette Smith and Chris Thomas come inside and Smith was later heard saying “Give me the gun.”

“I didn’t see who picked it up but all I heard was Yvette telling him to give her the shotgun,” said Vela.

Because she did not want Chris to see her on the phone with 911, Vela testified about hiding while talking to dispatchers. After a few moments of silence, Vela said she was still on the phone when she looked out to see Chris Thomas sitting on the couch, the shotgun laying on the table, and Yvette Smith walking towards the door to check on Willie Thomas who was outside talking to Daniel Willis, possibly unbeknownst to Smith.

“She was walking towards the door and she did not have anything in her hands,” said Vela. “She opened the door and that is when (Willis) shot and I just went to the floor. I heard her scream and I knew she got hit.”

The testimony became emotional when Vela described officers coming into the home and asking her to walk outside. She cried when recalling that meant she had to step over Smith who was down on the ground.

Under cross-examination, the defense questioned Vela about her exact words to the dispatchers who were giving information to Willis which included possible reports sledgehammers were involved. Vela had trouble remembering certain aspects of the call including whether she told dispatchers if someone was loading the gun. She also tried to clarify what she meant when she told dispatch there was a fight involving a gun.

“I said they were fighting over the gun, but I did not mean they were physically fighting over it”

A 911 call will eventually be admitted into evidence for the jury to hear for themselves what Vela was saying to the dispatchers relaying information to Willis. When the defense asked if she listened to the call prior to her testimony, Vela said the prosecutor instructed her to do so but she refused.

Court hears Daniel Willis’ account of day he shot Yvette Smith

In three different interviews which took place in the days after the February 16th, 2014 shooting, Daniel Willis said Yvette Smith stood still in the door frame for a few moments before pointing her hands towards him with what he believed could be a gun.

He fired two shots, killing Smith, and ultimately costing him his job as a Bastrop Sheriff Deputy after he was indicted for murder just a few months later.

The taped interviews were shown to the jury and reveal Willis’ account of what happened.

“What I was concerned about was how she stepped back into the door after looking one way and then looking another,” he told Texas Rangers in an interview 5 days after the shooting while wearing his deputy uniform. “There was something I couldn’t see in the shadows, but I didn’t see someone staring over her shoulder or something like that.”

A day earlier, the jury heard him say Smith stood in an almost “catatonic “ state in the doorway with a hand initially on the door frame. He described her making a pointing movement towards him with something in her hands he believed to be a weapon.

“He (his partner) screamed ‘Come out now!’ That’s when she made the weird movement. I saw whatever was in here hands so I figured I needed to get around (the vehicle he was crouched behind) just in case it was something.”

Evidence so far indicates Smith was not armed while standing in the doorway, but Willis was being told by dispatchers someone inside the home was loading a gun. Two shotguns were later found inside the home. In opening statements, special prosecutor Forrest Sanderson said the incident began as an altercation between two men and Yvette Smith was trying to get one of the men to put the gun down.
During his interview, Willis described Smith spinning 180 degrees after her fired upon her.

“I thought she had been paralyzed. There was no movement and she was really, really, relaxed. There was no tension, there was no nothing. She was breathing normally at the top of her lungs.”

Texas Ranger Brent Barina conducted the interview with Willis and took the stand to talk about statements made during the interview and how they aligned with what was seen on dashcam video. Under questioning from prosecutors, Barina said there were discrepancies between commands Willis claims were given and what could be heard or not heard on the dashcam video. In each of the video interviews, Barina said Willis’ statements were fairly consistent. What commands were given prior to shots being fired and how they fit into law enforcement policies and procedures could be a key talking point as the trial proceeds.

The autopsy results for Yvette Smith were presented to the jury on Wednesday morning. Earlier testimony and video indicated Willis fired two shots and forensic pathologist Dr. Danielo Perez testified Smith was grazed on the left flank by one of the bullets but the other entered her abdomen and proved to be fatal. Toxicology tests showed Smith had a blood alcohol content of .1, but Perez could not offer an opinion on how that amount of alcohol might or might not have impacted Smith’s behavior. No detection of illegal drugs were found in the toxicology report.

KXAN’s Chris Sadeghi is inside the courtroom. Follow him for live updates on the trial.


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