Maurice Dwayne Newsome entered his negotiated plea of guilty to malice murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Savannah Smith, on Tuesday in Liberty County Superior Court Judge Robert Russell’s courtroom.
Smith was 22 years old when she was reported missing after failing to show up for work June 8, 2010, at the Colleseum Sports Bar and Grill, where she worked as a waitress. Co-workers, family, friends and local law-enforcement officers launched a search, scouring the community for the missing woman. On June 18, the body of a young woman was discovered in a wooded area in Gum Branch near Juanita Road.
After a month of awaiting autopsy results, the body was identified as Smith, and her death was ruled a homicide.
Newsome left Hinesville during the initial search and was considered a person of interest. He was arrested June 17, 2010, in DeKalb County, charged and was held without bond at Liberty County Jail.
“Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the court, Maurice, this has been coming for a long time. 2010 started off as a good year. Savannah was going back to school,” Smith’s stepfather, Terry Upchurch said during Tuesday’s proceedings. Then he turned to Newsome and said, “We took you into our lives. We broke bread with you. I started raising Savannah at the age of 10 and she is the only daughter I know and you took her.”
Smith’s mother, Odessa Upchurch, stood behind her husband as he spoke to the crowd gathered in the courtroom.
Newsome, now 23, originally faced one count of malice murder, one county felony murder, one count aggravated assault, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and one count of concealing the death of another.
Under the negotiated plea agreement, the first three counts were merged together under malice murder and the final two counts were dismissed.
“On the eighth of June 2010, the defendant did, with a handgun, shoot the victim, Savannah Smith, his girlfriend — a single gunshot wound to the head, causing her death,” Atlantic Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Isabel M. Pauley said as she presented her case to the judge. “Thereafter, he did not report this incident and in fact moved the body to another location in the county.”
Pauley said Newsome was interviewed after his arrest, read his rights and he provided a series of statements to the investigators — information she categorized as a confession of the crime.
“Your honor, this is another example of a tragic situation; a domestic violence charge where a young woman at the beginning of her life cared for and loved this young man and she paid for that love with her life,” Pauley said.
She added that Newsome had a previous domestic incident with his own mother a year before Smith’s death.
Newsome testified that he had an argument with Smith the night before her death during a gathering with his sister and some friends. He said they had been drinking. Things cooled down a bit and they went to bed but the argument continued the next morning.
“The gun was in the bed and I started playing around with it and I pointed it at Savannah and I had it pointed to her head and it went off,” Newsome said. “She fell and she started shaking and I held her but then she stopped shaking and I panicked and the first thing I thought of was to move her. I moved the car and took her.”
But when questioned by Russell about Newsome’s testimony, Pauley informed the court she was not satisfied with Newsome’s testimony, which implied the gun accidentally went off. She said Newsome was not taking responsibility for the crime.
“I don’t think it’s satisfactory, no sir,” she said. “But I think that is about as good as it’s going to get.”
Russell explained to Newsome, “Basically, if you want to plead guilty, you have to lay out a fact pattern … and the charge you are pleading guilty to is malice murder, which basically says that you intended to shoot her in the head with malice. …Do you want to admit to that or do you want a jury trial?”
“I admit to that,” Newsome replied.
Under the provision of the agreement and the law, Russell then sentenced Newsome to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
“Her spirit cannot be brought back. Whether we go to trial or we have no trial, she can’t be brought back. She affected everybody. Everywhere she went, she affected everybody,” Terry Upchurch said before turning to face Newsome. “She gave you her all. She would not have given you up as long as you treated her right. She loved life and she was a free spirit. She would smile at you and I can’t see that smile anymore. My wife, her brother, we still deal with it. I was taught an eye for an eye but you know something? My daughter, even though what you did to her, she would still not wish that punishment upon you.”