The Murder of Judith Smith and her Children, Chad and Jason Burnett

Oscar Franklin Smith

On October 1, 1989, Oscar Franklin Smith, 40, killed his ex-wife, Judith Smith, and her two children, Chad Burnett, 16, and Jason Burnett, 13. He faces the death penalty, set to take place on February 2022.

Background

Judy and Smith were married and had twin boys, Chris and Casey. Both Judy and Smith also had children from previous marriages; Smith had two children who lived with his parents, Laura and Merl. Judy had two children, Chad and Jason.

 

On June 17, 1989, Judy left Smith when their twins were 3 years old; making custody a key issue. During the divorce proceedings, documents revealed that Judy, Chad, and Jason were afraid of Smith due to this confrontation. Smith had bitten Jason and held a gun to his head. He forced them out of the trailer and threatened to kill Judy if she tried to take the twins or the car. Judy reported the incident to police.

 

Judy went to retrieve her car and clothing from Smith’s residence in August 1989. Smith bounded and raped Judy; he put a knife to her neck and threatened to kill her. When the murder of Judy and her two children occurred, warrants were pending against Smith. During summer of 1989, Smith would harass Judy at her job, calling multiple times, threatening to kill her and her children. Judy reported the incident to police.

Attempt to Hire-for-murder

During the trial, Smith’s coworker testified that Smith had offered to kill his wife, if he would kill Judy in return. He explained they would coordinate the murders to occur when both men were supposed to be out of town. The man declined but did not tell police.

 

Smith asked another coworker if they knew anyone who would be willing to kill his family. Smith asked the same coworker two weeks later that he had $20,000 that he would spend to kill Judy and her two children from the previous marriage. He did not want the twins to be hurt. The coworker declined.

Life Insurance

Smith had taken out multiple life insurance policies early in 1989. The first life insurance policy he took out was with United Insurance, $10,000 for Judy and $4,000 for each Chad and Jason. In February 1989, he took out another insurance policy with United Insurance; $20,000 for Judy and $5,000 for each of her children. The last policy he had taken out was in March 1989; $20,000 for Judy and $5,000 for each child. The life insurance policies totaled $88,000.  

The Murder

On the day of the murder, Smith told police he met Judy and had breakfast with her and the twins. They then went to Judy’s house; Chad and Jason watch the twins while Smith and Judy went to look for a used car for Judy. While they were out, they stopped at two waffle houses and ate dinner at the Gold Rush before returning to Judy’s home. Smith then took the twins and went back to his house. Phone records show Judy called her sister around 10:30pm and told her that Smith took the twins to watch, so she could keep looking for a car the next day.

Around 11:20pm, 911 received a phone call from Jason, who was crying and asking for help. In the background, the operator heard another male voice was heard, Chad, who said “Frank, no. God, help me!”. Jason then stated their address, 324 Lutie Street, and hung up the phone.

Police arrived at the house five minutes later to assess the situation. They found a quiet house; when they knocked, there was no answer at the door. The responding officers reported it as a “false call” and left.

 

The following day, October 2, 1989, the bodies were discovered; it was evident there was a struggle. The phone had been ripped from the wall; a leg was broken off of the kitchen table; there was blood everywhere. There was no sign of forced entry.

Chad was found lying face up in the kitchen. He had been shot three times, in the right shoulder, upper chest, and on the inside of his left eyebrow. The autopsy also revealed that he had been stabbed multiple times in the chest, back, and abdomen. The corner was able to determine all the wounds occurred before Chad died.

 

Judy was found laying face down on her bed. She had been shot in the left arm and neck. According to court papers, Smith shot Judy in the neck from two feet away; the bullet would have “severed her spinal cord and produced instant paralysis, rapid unconsciousness and death. After she was dead, Smith slashed Judy’s neck and was stabbed.

 

Jason was found on the floor at the end of the bed where Judy was found. He had been stabbed in the chest and abdomen; his neck had been slashed. The wounds to Jason’s abdomen were fatal. Smith had partially disemboweled Jason. It would take Jason a few minutes to bleed to death.

Arrest & Trail

Investigators picked Smith up in the evening on October 2, 2989. After interviewing him, he was arrested for the murders. He pled not guilty and took his case to trial. Smith faced the death penalty.

Smith’s Story

Court documents state that smith referred to his wife in the past tense before being informed of her death and never asked what prompted police to bring him in for an interview. Investigators noticed Smith had cuts on his hand, elbow, and shoulder blade. According to court documents, Smith showed little emotion when told that Just, Chad, and Jason were murdered.

 

Smith told investigators he was at his house until 11:30pm the night of the murders. When he left his house, he drove to Morehead, Kentucky, for a job; he worked as a machine tool repairman and was preparing to work the next day. Smith stated arrived in Morehead a little after 7:00am, fixed the machine, and headed home. Smith told investigators the drive took so long since it was foggy out. He explained the cuts on him were caused by his dog after he returned home. Smith denied having anything to do with the murders of Judy, Chad, and Jason.

Prosecution’s Story

The prosecutors believed that Smith murdered Judy, Chad, and Jason before making the drive to Morehead, Kentucky. Weather reports did not support Smith’s claim of a foggy drive. In the house, a handprint was found that matched Smiths. Smith was missing two fingers, and the print reflected this. Smith carried a knife with him, owned a.22 caliber gun, and use an awl in his work. Shell casings matching a.22 caliber gun were found at the scene; a weapon with a similar shape of an awl was used; as well as a knife. A witness also testified that she saw Smith’s car in the driveway of Judy’s house around 11:15pm the night of the murder. They also used the 911 call, where Smith’s name was said. A fingerprint that matched Smith’s were found on the broken table leg, the telephone base, and the telephone receiver.

Sentence

Smith was charged with three counts of premeditated murder and two counts of felony murder.

 

On July 25, 1990, the jury found Smith guilty of all three charges of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to death.

Appeals                                

August 17, 1990, motion of acquittal to the finding of guilty and to the sentence of death. He also motioned for a new trial. A judged denied these motions on August 29, 1990.

 

Appeals would continue for the next thirty years. Smith’s appeals cited ineffective counsel and cited concerns that were not brought up during his trial. These points include the gun that was used in the crime was never recovered. The knife that was used to stab the victims was never recovered. The awl, which was recovered, did not have any fingerprints. A bloody footprint was found which was not connected to Smith. There was also an unidentified fingerprint at the scene.

 

All of Smith’s appeals were denied.

 

Smith is set to be executed on April 21, 2022.

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