Closing statements are scheduled in the trial of a man accused of fatally beating a world-renowned footwear collector in the swimming pool behind her Menifee home in what the defense contends was an act of blind rage — not premeditated murder, as the prosecution alleges.
Justin Charles Smith, 32, could face 26 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder for the July 2013 death of 58-year-old Darlene Flynn.
The defense rested Thursday in the nearly three-week trial, and Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Donner directed jurors to return Tuesday morning for closing arguments at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Smith maintains he did not intend to kill Flynn and was not in control of himself when he pummeled her with a Louisville slugger baseball bat on the afternoon of July 22, 2013.
Among the evidence submitted by his attorneys was a tape-recorded conversation between the defendant and a deputy who arrested him a short time after the attack.
“I don’t remember what happened,” Smith tells the lawman. “I just lost it. It was like anger and rage. When it was all done and over with, I just didn’t realize what I did.”
The recording revealed that Smith and Flynn had gotten into an argument the day before about his failure to repay her $50 for fueling his pickup truck to help a friend move.
“She totally lost it (when the money wasn’t returned),” Smith says on the tape. “She started pounding me in the chest with her fists. She threw tupperware at me from the kitchen. I asked her to calm down, and we went to bed.”
The two slept separately, and the next day, Flynn’s emotions flared again as he slept in, according to the defendant.
“She started shoving me down the hallway, saying `you’re an idiot, you’re garbage, get out,'” Smith tells the deputy. “She was making me feel like a bad guy. She always was saying I was stupid and didn’t learn. I have a learning disability from a head injury.”
Smith indicated that he prepared to leave the single-story ranch home at 28875 Stone Lane, and Flynn got into her pool to relax.
According to the prosecution, as the victim rested in the shallow end, Smith grabbed the bat, which he said had been left in a corner of the living room for self-defense, and confronted Flynn, sparking another argument that culminated in his striking her four to six times in the head and face.
Neighbors heard the commotion and called 911. Deputies arrived a few minutes later and spotted a shirtless Smith standing near the pool. However, when he saw the law enforcement officers, the defendant bolted, according to trial testimony.
Smith later said he was “in shock” and standing there because he couldn’t grasp what had happened. He was located that afternoon wandering along Highway 74, where he was arrested without incident.
Flynn’s body was pulled from the water and turned over to pathologist Dr. Allison Hunt for an autopsy. Hunt testified that the victim had received “blunt force injuries (with) enough power … to break her skull.”
Flynn’s vast collection of shoes and related products landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2006. Dubbed “The Shoe Lady” and the “Queen of Sole,” she had amassed more than 16,000 shoes and related products. The possessions, including heels, sneakers, boots, stockings — even pillows shaped as shoes — had an estimated value in excess of $500,000, according to published reports.
Flynn and Smith had been profiled together months before the fatal attack in a television show about her collection.
The defendant has a prior misdemeanor conviction for grand theft from September 2012, which prosecutors said was the result of him selling Flynn’s car without her permission. Smith was sentenced to three years probation in that case.
He’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.