At 1:18 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2018, Brittany Smith texted her mother: “Mom Todd has tried to kill me literally. Don’t act like anything is wrong…he will kill me if he knows.” Brittany’s mother, Ramona McCallie, then frantically called her daughter, her son Chris McCallie, and Joshua Todd Smith, an acquaintance of Brittany’s who went by Todd. But no one answered.
Minutes later, Chris arrived at Brittany’s home in Stevenson, Alabama, near Tennessee’s southern border, armed with a pistol and ready to defend his sister. Inside, Chris placed his gun on the counter and told Todd, who Brittany said had raped her earlier that night, to leave. Instead, according to statements provided to police, Todd put Chris in a headlock. As Todd punched Chris, Brittany ran into the kitchen, grabbed the gun, and warned Todd she was going to shoot him, according to a statement she gave to police. When Todd did not back off, she shot him once, unsure if the bullet hit him. After Todd continued to beat Chris, Brittany fired the weapon several more times, until Todd dropped to the floor. Brittany called 911 and Todd was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. According to the medical examiner’s report, Todd had bullet wounds in his arm, shoulder, ribs, and abdomen.
Brittany told investigators from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department that Todd became violent after she agreed to let him sleep on the couch at her house for the night. She said Todd brutally raped her twice, at one point knocking her unconscious. A rape crisis center report obtained by The Appeal describes 33 wounds on Brittany’s body, including bite marks on her neck and chin. A toxicology report found that Todd had methamphetamine and alcohol in his system.
Chris told sheriff’s department investigators that he shot Todd. But Brittany admitted the next day that she was responsible for his death. She was then arrested on a murder charge and held at the Jackson County Jail on $100,000 bond. In March 2018, Jackson County District Attorney Jason Rupert Pierce convened a grand jury and indicted Brittany for murder. “It’s like they want to make her out to be this cold-blooded murderer and she’s not,” Ramona McCallie told the Appeal. “It’s like something out of a bad Lifetime movie.”
‘Ask for Paige’
In December 2017, Brittany, then 31, separated from her husband. She told her mother that she was lonely and wanted a puppy. Todd—who she met briefly when she was a teenager—bred pitbulls and posted on Facebook that he was selling two dogs. They messaged for a week about the dogs, during which he made romantic advances that Brittany did not reciprocate. In January 2018, Brittany’s mother drove her to his Tennessee home, where she planned to purchase a puppy. A friend drove her back to Alabama.
The next day, Todd texted Brittany to say he was stranded in a park near the Tennessee and Alabama border and asked her for help. Chris drove Brittany in his vehicle to pick Todd up and then she reluctantly housed him for the night. That evening, Todd pressed her on why she wasn’t interested in him romantically, according to her police statement. She said she “never saw him that way.” He then called her a bitch and chased her to her bedroom, where he proceeded to choke her. Brittany told investigators she passed out and woke up to him attacking her again.
After Todd raped Brittany, he told her that he would kill her and her family if she told anyone or called 911, according to her statement. Todd then asked for cigarettes and Brittany had her brother Chris, who lived with their mother down the road, drive them to a nearby Mapco convenience store. There, Brittany slipped a note to the cashier, Paige Painter, in which she wrote that if she was found dead, it was Todd Smith of Jasper, Tennessee, who killed her, according to Brittany’s statement. When the group exited the store, Chris dropped off Brittany and Todd at her house. Fearing Todd, Brittany did not tell Chris what had happened to her; instead, she told him to return to the Mapco to speak to the clerk. She also texted her mother: “Call Mapco and ask for Paige.” After talking with the clerk, Chris returned to Brittany’s house in the bid to save her that ended with Todd’s death.
Mental health struggles
After her arrest, Brittany experienced a nervous breakdown at the Jackson County Jail. Her mother told The Appeal that Brittany’s mental health steeply declined because she did not receive proper treatment for the post traumatic stress disorder she had been diagnosed with after the attacks. Brittany told her mother that jailers teased her by saying that the facility had an invisible elevator that would take her to her children on the other side of the wall. Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips declined to comment on these allegations.
Brittany spent more than two months in jail. Because she could not afford legal representation, Parker Edmiston, a local attorney, took her case pro bono. Last year, area residents discovered that Edmiston and other business owners had posted in a since-deleted private Facebook group called Douchers & Tweakers in the Wild, in which members post pictures of people with classist captions that mock their manner of dress. Edmiston had other problems: He was quickly conflicted off the case because he also represented Brittany’s brother Chris, who had yet to be cleared by the grand jury. Edmiston did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Appeal.
Brittany was then appointed an attorney by the state named James Mick, who declined to speak to The Appeal about the case. Mick represented Brittany during a March 2018 preliminary hearing in which Alabama Circuit Court Judge Don Word heard testimony about Todd’s alleged rapes of Brittany. Word, however, found that there was probable cause to charge Brittany with murder and sent the case to the grand jury where Pierce, the DA, obtained a murder indictment. During the hearing, the lead investigator for the sheriff’s department testified that the bruises on Brittany were not consistent with her statement that Todd tried to choke her to death and break her neck on the side of the bed. “Honestly, I would have thought there would be more [bruises],” he said.
The Jackson County district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Brittany’s case.
The murder indictment came despite the fact that Alabama is one of 25 states that has a “Stand Your Ground” law. In Alabama, the law allows for the use of fatal force in several circumstances, including if a person thinks an attacker may kill them or if the attacker has kidnapped or raped someone. Victor Revill, an Alabama criminal defense attorney who specializes in Stand Your Ground cases, said Brittany’s case should qualify as self-defense. “That is Stand Your Ground all day,” he told The Appeal. “That situation is one of the reasons why this law is in place. If her brother was saving her from her kidnapper or her rapist and then kidnapper is trying to fight her brother, in her situation you have the right to defend yourself and you have the right to defend the other person as well.”
There is precedent for victims who engage in acts of self-defense finding justice in Alabama: Last year, a Dallas County grand jury heard testimony from Jacqueline Dixon, who was charged with murdering her abusive husband. The grand jury then declined to indict her. Dixon’s defense team said they would have requested a Stand Your Ground hearing if she had been indicted.
But more than one year later after Todd’s killing, Brittany still faces life in prison for killing her alleged rapist.
On April 22, 2018, Brittany was released from jail on a reduced $50,000 bond. Since then, she has been awaiting a hearing in which her attorney will argue the merits of her Stand Your Ground case. The judge can choose to dismiss the murder charge should she find that Brittany was acting in accordance with state law. If the case goes to trial, Brittany can argue self-defense and a jury will decide her fate.
In December 2018, Brittany underwent a psychiatric evaluation at her attorney’s request. She told her mother that the state’s forensic psychologist laughed at her as she described being raped, and mocked the fact that she has been seeing a therapist. In early February, the judge in her case ruled that Brittany was not competent to stand trial based on the psychologist’s evaluation and sent her to the state’s mental hospital for 90 days. “The defendant is mentally ill or has a mental defect; that as a consequence of such mental illness or defect, poses a real threat of substantial harm to himself or herself or others,” read the court order.
Brittany was again incarcerated at the county jail for a month while she waited for an open bed at the psychiatric hospital. She was on medical lockdown, which meant that she was confined to her cell 23 hours per day. Brittany told her mother that she didn’t receive her PTSD medication and was instead given One A Day Women’s vitamins. She was then transferred to the state psychiatric hospital, where she is currently being held.
Recently, Brittany sent her mother a letter written in crayon in which she said that she had been deemed sufficiently competent to sign her own legal documents. But before Brittany can be found competent to stand trial, she must again by evaluated by a forensic psychologist. Her mother told The Appeal that the doctor has to see approximately 160 patients before he can evaluate Brittany. “They want to make it out that Brittany had a relationship with him and she just shot him,” Ramona McCallie said. “I feel like this is a long nightmare that I wish my whole family could wake up from.”