On what could be the last full day of testimony in Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant who sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.
Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton without calling Frederick Cobia as a witness, bringing an anticlimactic end to prosecutors’ most hotly contested use of him in his career as one of the most memorable jail snitches in Palm Beach County history.
The announcement came after testimony from the man who has now emerged as the state’s star witness in the case surrounding the shooting death of Clayton — Smith’s co-defendant, Quentin Lythgoe.
Lythgoe, who began his testimony Wednesday, told jurors that Smith, 24, called him one night in August 2011, asked him if he wanted to make money and later revealed a robbery plot.
“He had someone who was easy money. Who was soft, who wouldn’t put up a fight,” Lythgoe said.
The supposed easy target was Clayton, a 24-year-old who made money buying and selling iPhones and iPads. Smith allegedly lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.
But what started as a robbery, Lythgoe said, ended with Smith shooting Clayton in the head before the two of them made off with several hundred dollars.
Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a possible witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he claims to have obtained confessions from other defendants, was to have testified that Smith told him of his involvement in Clayton’s murder while the two were housed at the Palm Beach County Jail.
Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.
The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox then had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.
An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.
Prosecutors once sought the death penalty against Cobia for the 2012 shooting death of 57-year-old Desmond Dunkley in South Bay, but he was allowed to plead guilty to a second-degree murder charge in exchange for his cooperation in at least eight cases.
As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, a conviction on first-degree murder charges could send him to prison for life. Lythgoe, who was 17 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty to robbery charges after prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges against him in exchange for his testimony.
He faces a sentence recommendation cap of 15 years in prison.
Burton told jurors they should begin deliberations early next week.