The disappearance of a Germantown man who disabled his electronic monitoring ankle bracelet on a break from his trial for sex crimes came five months after the Montgomery County prosecutor expressed concerns about the monitoring system.
Justin K. Smith, 41, was on trial this week in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court on sexual battery and other crimes against a 14-year-old girl on his soccer team. He testified on Wednesday morning but didn’t return to the court after a lunch break, and court officials said he had disabled his monitoring device near Franklin.
Law enforcement had not announced any change in Smith’s whereabouts as of Thursday afternoon. Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Erik Blaine plans to announce his verdict at 11 a.m. today after the bench trial on eight counts against Smith, according to court staff.
In May, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. sent local judges a link to a national TV news magazine show that claimed 50 murders had been committed from 2012 until the show aired by people who had been ordered to wear electronic monitoring devices.
“My concern is that EHDP (the monitoring system) is sometimes used in lieu of a sufficiently high bond for violent offenders,” Heck said in an exclusive response to this news organization. “No EHDP is foolproof, as has been seen in our county and across the nation. Ankle monitors have been removed, and the offender has committed additional, violent crimes, including murder.
“When an offender violates EHDP, we believe there needs to be immediate action taken to notify law enforcement and my office, not only to locate the offender but to ensure the victim and witnesses are safe. Once an offender has demonstrated they are a flight risk, an offender’s bond should obviously be increased.”
Before he left his trial on Wednesday, Smith said that he and the victim loved each other. Under cross-examination, the Germantown man admitted to an inappropriate relationship with the girl he’d known since she was 8.
Montgomery County prosecutors said Smith was careful to draw a distinction between sexual contact and sexual conduct even though there were explicit texts, photos and talks of marriage, a honeymoon and naming future kids.
“The defendant has every motivation in the world to come in and lie,” prosecutor Jennifer Weber said during closing arguments. “He’s talked about how he’ll lose his family, he’s lost his job coaching, he’s afraid of facing criminal charges. He has every reason in the world to come in here and minimize what happened between the two of them.”
Weber said the line conveniently goes right between misdemeanors and felonies.
“What he’s asking you to believe is, ‘I’m a 41-year-old man OK getting a (sex act) from a 14-year-old girl that I coach in soccer but that’s where I draw the line. I won’t go any further than that,’” Weber said.
“The problem is this defendant doesn’t draw the line anywhere. We know that because he was willing to engage in a relationship with a 14-year-old. We know that because he was willing to do any sex acts with a 14-year-old. He simply doesn’t draw a line.”
Defense attorney Adam Arnold said his client knows what he did was wrong and that he’s not proud of his decisions.
“We’re not saying that there was no sexual conduct in this case,” Arnold said. “What we’re saying is the state hasn’t proven the burden.
“The state said, ‘How far did this relationship go?’ I think the better question is did the state prove that there was more to this relationship.”
Electronic monitoring (EHDP) concerns
In his email to judges discussing his concerns about electronic monitoring five months ago, Heck included local examples of “disastrous results” involving defendants on the electronic home detention program (EHDP). They included:
In 1999, Peter Atakpu disconnected his monitoring device and pre-trial services employees failed to notice a faxed report or pager notification from the monitoring company. Less than two weeks later, Atakpu killed Byron Kennerly and shot at four others in Dayton.
In 2000, Larry Gapen had work-release privileges after tying up his estranged wife Martha Madewell. Officials learned later Gapen had another person drive his FedEx route and that he visited Madewell and her children. Less than three months later, Gapen killed Madewell, Nathan Marshall and Jessica Young in a Dayton home with a splitting maul during work-release hours.
In 2017, James Banks was shot and killed in Dayton while on EHDP from juvenile court. Banks had been outside his house carrying the monitoring portion that was to be inside the house. Banks died when a person he was to sell a gun to shot him.
In July 2018, Travion Montgomery was released on EHDP. On Aug. 2, he cut off the device and pre-trial services got a message, but that was not relayed to law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office. After a stay in a hospital, Montgomery was not taken to jail. On Aug. 31 in Dayton, Montgomery “chokes out” a victim who was on life support, according to the email.
In Dayton’s U.S. District Court, Magistrate Judge Michael Newman recently denied EHDP for Beavercreek teen Naser Almadaoji, who is accused of trying to join an arm of ISIS. Newman specifically mentioned the chance an ankle bracelet could be cut off as a reason in granting prosecutors’ motion for detention.
In 2008, a defense contractor accused in bribery scheme cut off a wrist bracelet and fled from Las Vegas to Mexico, then Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and his native Turkey with a fake passport.
Metin Atilan also traveled to Lebanon and Iraq, where he was arrested and returned to the United States in 2014. Atilan was later tried and convicted in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.