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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2005

Defendant a killer, jury hears from prosecution

Earnest Otto Smith shot and killed James Dillingham during a robbery at the Crown Inn on West Alexis Road, an assistant prosecutor told a jury yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Andrew Lastra, in his opening statement, told the panel that Mr. Smith, during an interview with police detectives about a month after the homicide, confessed to killing Mr. Dillingham.

Mr. Smith, 39, the former owner of tattoo shops in Toledo and Defiance, is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery and specifications that he used a gun in the crimes. He is one of three people accused in the killing.

Mr. Dillingham, 48, of 1661 Kalida Drive was shot once in the chest. He was found about 3:40 a.m. Jan. 3 on the sidewalk outside Room 25 of the motel.

Mr. Smith, whose known addresses have included one in Napoleon, fled Toledo after the shooting. His van was recovered several days later in Louisville; he was arrested Jan. 21 in Nashville.

Dennis Smith of 2625 Fremont St. is charged with complicity to commit aggravated robbery and complicity to commit murder. Cathy Barnett of Toledo is charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated murder. She has not been located.

Mr. Lastra said the panel will see the videotape interview of Mr. Smith in which he admitted that he shot Mr. Dillingham during a struggle in the motel room, but he recanted the confession two days later.

However, Mr. Lastra said the defendant provided details of the crime that only the killer would know.

Merle Dech, Mr. Smith's attorney, said his client didn't kill Mr. Dillingham and that he confessed because he told police only what they wanted to hear. He said Mr. Smith was deceived into believing that there were witnesses and evidence linking him to the crime.

The trial, with Judge Gary Cook presiding, is expected to continue today.

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