Murder suspect, victim heard arguing before gunshot

·3 min read

Jul. 9—An employee of the business where a Decatur man was fatally shot last month told police he heard the man and the murder suspect arguing before hearing a gunshot, a Decatur police detective testified Thursday during the defendant's preliminary hearing.

After testimony from lead investigator Tony Vest, Morgan County District Judge Shelly Waters found probable cause to turn the case of Spencer Newton Harwell, 44, of Decatur, over to a Morgan County grand jury.

Frankie Roland Smith Jr., 62, was taken to Decatur Morgan Hospital after the June 10 shooting, where he was pronounced dead.

Smith was the owner of Decatur Door Service at 3023 U.S. 31 S., where Harwell and Brandon Atchley were both employed, according to Vest, and Harwell's family said Harwell had stayed in an apartment at the business for at least six months.

Vest, who interviewed Atchley after another detective questioned him, testified that Atchley heard Smith and Harwell arguing, but he didn't know what the argument was about. Atchley said he heard Smith tell Harwell to get his "stuff" out of the apartment.

Atchley could only see Smith at first but he moved and could then see both men, Vest said. He testified that Atchley said he heard a gunshot and saw Smith hit the ground, but never saw Harwell shoot Smith.

Atchley said Harwell told him to say that Smith was trying to attack him, according to Vest's testimony. Atchley then called 911.

Vest, who was the only witness to testify at the hearing, was questioned by Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson and Harwell's attorney, Kevin Teague. Vest said autopsy results showed Smith had one gunshot wound, "almost directly between the eyes."

When two officers responded to the business at about 1:40 p.m. on June 10, Vest said, they found Harwell outside texting on his phone. When given verbal commands, Harwell got on the ground and was detained.

The officers escorted Harwell to a patrol vehicle and, when asked how he was doing, Harwell said: "I'm fine, other than I just killed my best friend."

Smith was found on the north side of the building, just inside a bay door, lying face up, Vest testified, and an ambulance transported him to the hospital.

Vest said Harwell was taken to the Decatur Police Department, where the interview ended when he requested an attorney after being read the Miranda warning. Harwell asked to speak with another officer and told the officer that Smith had become hostile with him and picked up an object, which Harwell blocked, according to Vest.

Vest testified that after Harwell was taken into custody, police asked if he needed medical treatment for his swollen right hand, and Harwell told police that he had injured the hand while trying to block being hit by an object.

Harwell retreated to his apartment but opened the door to the apartment and "re-engaged" with Smith, according to Vest's testimony.

Vest testified that a Morgan County Jail inmate gave a written statement that Harwell told him: "I shot a man between the eyes, execution-style."

According to Vest, a pistol believed to be the weapon used in the shooting and another pistol were seized from the apartment.

Harwell was booked into the Morgan County Jail and his bail was set at $150,000, but he is being held for a probation violation after pleading guilty in March to unlawful possession of a controlled substance. A revocation hearing is scheduled next month.

marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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