Friday, January 14, 2000

Devou Park killing sent to grand jury




BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The man suspected of killing another man in Devou Park in October told detectives right away the story of the victim's beating death, claiming he overheard it from the killer.

        Thomas Smith later admitted he made up that story, police said. Though he has never confessed to killing James Berte, he appears to know exactly how the man died — knowledge investigators think had to come firsthand.

        The murder case against Mr. Smith, 25, was sent to a grand jury Thursday after Kenton District Judge Frank Trusty agreed there was probable cause to think Mr. Smith did commit the crime.

        Mr. Smith showed up on his own at Covington police headquarters Oct. 28, the day after the body of Mr. Berte, 70, was found in the park, officers testified Thursday. He said then that he'd overheard a conversation during which a man said he hit Mr. Berte in the face with a beer bottle and then beat him severely.

        Then he said something investigators found odd: “Gee, I hope it wasn't my beer bottle.”

        Police said relatives of Mr. Smith told them he hangs out in the park. He admitted he drinks there. A broken 22-ounce Budweiser bottle was found near the body.

        Officers aren't sure exactly what happened between the two men in the popular park, but they think Mr. Smith might have been a hustler who targeted gay men there.

        Mr. Smith was identified by two women involved in a wedding party picture session that day in the park. They said he approached them asking for a cell phone to report an accident. Mr. Berte's car was found wedged between two trees.

        Mr. Smith remained in the Kenton County Jail on Thursday. He is being held without bond.

       



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