No arrests made in double killing

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Pine Flat community man will not be charged for shooting and killing the man who murdered his wife over an argument about a dog.

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Lafayette County Sheriff’s deputies responded to 8 County Road 3011 where they discovered two people fatally injured.

According to Chief Investigator Alan Wilburn, Melisa Smith, 45, and her neighbor, Jose Benitez, were arguing outside of Smith’s home that she shared with her husband, Clayton “Michael” Smith, who was asleep at the time of the argument.

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Smith went back into her house and Benitez followed. At some point, someone got ahold of a knife. Wilburn said it was unclear who had the weapon first; however, Benitez stabbed Smith multiple times, according to an autopsy report.

Smith’s husband woke up during the struggle, grabbed a 7-mag high-powered rifle and shot Benitez. Smith and Benitez were pronounced dead at the scene by Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy. Michael Smith was taken into custody for questioning and later released.

Wilburn said the Smith was not charged with any crime; however, the case will be presented to a grand jury in August.

Ongoing feud

Mississippi’s “Castle Doctrine” law allows residents to use deadly force to defend themselves in their home, vehicle or place of business against an intruder, as long as it’s in self-defense or in the defense “of any other human being.”

Wilburn said through the investigation, it was determined the fight between Smith and Benitez “stemmed from a conversation Michael Smith had with Benitez hours earlier in regards to Benitez’s pit bull coming onto the Smith’s property.”

The dog had been previously classified as a vicious dog under Lafayette County’s vicious dog ordinance passed in 2013 after the dog attacked someone.

On Monday, the dog was in an enclosed pen on Benitez’s property, barking at passersby, police officers and members of the media reporting on the double killings.

Lafayette County does not have a leash law. Under the vicious dog ordinance, if a dog has harmed a person or another domestic animal, the owner of the dog is required to keep the dog secure indoors or in a secure enclosure unless on a leash.

Michael Smith’s brother, Billy Smith said the dog often roamed free, harassing neighbors living along the road. The family built a barbed wire fence around their property to keep the dog away. The two neighbors often argued about the dog, Billy Smith said.

“(Benitez) was previously cited for having a vicious dog,” Wilburn said.

The dog was removed temporarily from the home and later returned to Benitez and his girlfriend who lived in the same home.

Reports of Benitez, a Hispanic man, being an illegal resident were found to be untrue, Wilburn said.

“As far as we have been able to determine, he was born in this country and was a legal citizen,” Wilburn said Wednesday.

A memorial service was held Wednesday for Smith who had one adult child and a grandchild. She worked at the Univesity Inn for several years as a housecleaner.

Billy Smith said he and his family are doing their best to move on.

“We’re all just trying to put this behind us now,” he said Wednesday.