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Local News

July 13, 2011

Family reacts to sentencing

Smith receives 20 to 40 for 2010 homicide

BUTLER — Three victim impact statements were read at a sentencing in Butler County court on Tuesday for a man who shot his former brother-in-law while he slept in his recliner last summer.

A representative of VOICE, an advocacy group for victims, read the statements from three relatives of Clifford Stevenson, 56, who was killed by Thomas Nathan Smith in his Mercer Township, Butler County, residence on July 28 last year.

Collette Huff, Stevenson’s sister, who found her dead brother, wrote about the anxiety she’s felt since the murder.

“I’ve changed all the locks in the house and have added extra locks,” she said. “I don’t answer the door unless I know who it is.”

Smith lived with her brother, who was disabled and fighting prostate cancer. Until Stevenson purchased a vehicle, she would drive him and Smith to various places.

“It goes through my head all the time, that could have been me (who got killed by Smith),” Huff said in a separate interview. 

In the past year that Smith has been incarcerated, “I didn’t know if he was getting out, if he done it by himself or had someone or whatever,” she said.

“I had dark curtains up everywhere and closed them every night,” Huff added. She did that “to keep the world out,” she wrote in her statement.

“Now I’m back to normal. I still got my locks, but I’m letting sunshine in my house,” Huff noted in the interview.

Statements were also read by Stevenson’s daughters, Autumn and Nicole Stevenson. They are his children with his ex-wife, Mary, who is Smith’s sister.

That connection has created problems within the family.

“My dad’s side of the family wants nothing to do with my sister and me because Tom is my mother’s brother,” Nicole stated.

“The only family I have now that talks to me is Mom,” she added, but her mom is “devastated” that her brother killed the father of her daughters.

Autumn noted that her mother and brother, close relatives, “have walked away from me because of their ties with Tom.”

In the past two years, Autumn had reacquainted herself with her dad. She had not seen him for over 14 years, since she was 5.

“When we reunited it was the most wonderful thing,” she said. “It was as if a life-long weight was lifted from my heart. ... I did not have a father, and then I did, and the world seemed right, and now ... there’s a void in my life again. My father and I were really trying hard to make up the lost time when Thomas Smith took him from me.”

Autumn’s daughters were also forming a loving relationship with their new-found grandfather.

Since the murder, the girls have been targeted at school by children who enjoy teasing them “about their grandpa being murdered,” their mother added in the statement.

“I feel like a prisoner to all these feelings I have, and it’s Thomas Smith’s fault.”

Nicole Stevenson works in a home for people with severe mental problems.

Her uncle was not deemed insane in the murder, but his mental state was questioned because of apparent hallucinations he had, which were witnessed by family in recent years. He also had no criminal history before murdering Stevenson.

Nicole believed Smith’s mental state was the reason he killed her dad.

Four times in her statement, she referred to her uncle’s crime as an “accident,” and believed proper medication for mental illness would have prevented it.

“Tom knew he had an illness and refused to seek out treatment,” Nicole said.

“I forgive my uncle for what he did because I understand how hard it is for people with mental illness to seek out treatment. I understand my uncle was not in his right mind at the time.”

After the murder, family became concerned that one of Nicole’s clients could harm her on the job, she added in the statement.

“I have been verbally attacked by my clients and have had things thrown at me,” she said. “Until this accident, I did not think anything of it.”

That changed.

Now, “I go to work every day wondering if someone is going to have a psychotic break and do something to hurt me,” Nicole stated. “I have considered switching career fields.”

The sisters did not go to the sentencing. The VOICE representative stated in court that Autumn didn’t think she could handle it and became very anxious.

Huff, her brother, Terry, and Mary Booher, Terry’s daughter, did go to the sentencing.

They later spoke of being relieved that the waiting was over.

“It’s been crazy. They kept putting off the hearings, would change dates,” Booher said.

It made the family worry that Smith could get out of jail.

“He would have went after whoever,” Booher said. “He was two totally different people. When he went to my uncle’s (to live), he was as normal as can be, but a year ago he was acting crazy.”

Huff had mixed feelings about Smith spending the remainder of his life in jail.

“He’s going to get his three meals a day, a roof over his head, recreation,” she said, while her brother didn’t have a chance to live.

“We’re doing OK, but it’s something you’re not going to forget,” Huff said.

“I thought (Smith) could have had more time than he did, but I’m not the judge,” Terry stated. “It’s affected a lot of us pretty much. We’re coping, but it’s a little rough yet.”

Two other brothers, Ernie and Eric Stevenson, couldn’t go to the sentencing. The siblings also had a sister, Pamela, who predeceased Clifford.

“Tom has a big family and none of them showed up,” Huff added. “I thought that was strange,” she said, since they are a large, close-knit family.

After Stevenson’s funeral, Huff noted that his girls changed their phone numbers. She and Booher agreed that their side of the family would welcome them any time.

The women both work in housekeeping at Hampton Inn, Springfield Township, where co-workers have been “so nice,” Huff said. The women have been a support to one another in the murder. 

On Tuesday, Smith sat as if he was alone; pensive and in prison stripes among a room full of defendants--both incarcerated and in the audience--awaiting sentencing. It was presided over by Judge William Schaffer.

Smith looked vastly different from when he was arrested last year--unshaven, scraggly and thin. At the sentencing, he was well groomed and appeared to have gained some weight.

He spoke articulately about his regrets over killing his former brother-in-law.

“I’m related to both sides by marriage and by blood,” Smith said.

“It’s terrible how this has divided the family. Many times, someone can walk by and I am sobbing in my cell. This will stay with me the remainder of my life.”

But Huff and Booher didn’t believe him.

“He was running from the cops,” Booher said. “It’s the first time he said anything like that.”

“It’s just the look on his face, maybe,” Huff added. “I think he knew what he was doing.”

Smith, 50, was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison for third degree murder.

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