A New Jersey man has been accused of shooting to death his stepfather after objecting to a gay person’s presence in his family home.
Christian Smith, 23, was staying temporarily with his mother and stepfather, 43-year-old Dennis McKenzie, in their home in Woolwich Township, New Jersey, where a celebration was taking place on October 9, the day of the altercation.
A relative of Smith’s had brought a friend to the house, prompting Smith to object to the friend’s sexual orientation, according to Assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor Dana Anton.
“He made it known to his stepfather that he did not approve of that person coming into their house … that their house was a house of God,” Anton argued in court during a probable cause hearing on Wednesday.
She added that Smith also used an anti-gay slur while arguing with his stepfather over the man’s presence in the house, reports the news website NJ.com.
Anton alleged that the argument escalated, McKenzie took a swing at Smith and superficially hit him, although Smith was not injured as a result.
In response, Smith took out a Glock 19 from his waistband and shot McKenzie three times. The bullets struck McKenzie twice, once in the head and once in the body. He died at the scene.
“This argument that preceded the murder, it started over an act of bias and an act of bias intimidation where [Smith] is using a slur about somebody’s sexual orientation,” Anton claimed in court.
Prosecutors say Smith’s mother and a teen sibling witnessed the incident, with Smith’s mother unsuccessfully attempting to de-escalate the fight between her husband and son prior to the shooting.
Smith, who, currently faces a charge of first-degree murder, claimed after being taken into custody that the shooting was accidental.
His lawyer, Katherine Constantine Blinn, argued that the shooting was not premeditated and that more forensic evidence was needed to clarify how the shooting occurred and what exactly occurred during the altercation.
She noted that Smith remained at the shooting scene and dismantled the gun, placing it on the dining room table.
“What that suggests to me, judge, is that this was accidental and that in order to prevent any further issues Mr. Smith disassembled the gun until police arrived,” Blinn argued.
But Anton disputed the notion that the shooting was an accident, noting that Smith’s mother had positioned herself physically between her husband and son, meaning Smith would have had to reach around his mother to shoot his stepfather.
“He took the gun out from behind him, reached over her and fired three times,” Anton said. “You can’t accidentally shoot somebody three times.”
Superior Court Judge Mary Beth Kramer found probable cause for the first-degree murder charge and a second-degree charge of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
She did not find probable cause for a third charge of unlawful possession of a weapon, since authorities have determined Smith legally purchased the gun in Pennsylvania and was permitted to possess it in the home.
Regarding whether Smith would be released on bail prior to trial, Blinn argued that her client has no criminal history, no record of violence, and strong family ties, with his mother and godparents vouching for his character.
However, prosecutors claimed Smith poses a danger to the community and could potentially interfere with witnesses to the shooting by simply having regular contact with his family.
According to Anton, police body camera footage allegedly shows Smith telling his mother not to speak to detectives. Anton also expressed skepticism that the shooting was a spontaneous incident, noting that it is unusual to carry around an unholstered gun at a family gathering.
Judge Kramer ultimately sided with the prosecution, ordering Smith to be held in custody pending trial.
“The weight of the evidence in the eyes of the court in this matter are very strong,” she said. “Even with the argument that this was somehow an accidental discharge, he still had to take a loaded handgun out of his waistband at a family gathering…. I find that he represents a danger to the community.”
Smith is next scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 2 for a pre-indictment hearing.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!