Judith Binnie thought her daughter’s husband, Patrick Smith, was a “decent guy” at first. When Amanda left her family’s home in Southern California to marry Patrick in Austin, Texas, she was skeptical, but accepted it.
After she saw bruises on Amanda’s face, however, she threatened to shoot Patrick dead.
“He was a very frightening human being, and I don’t frighten easily,” Judith told Oxygen’s “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
On April 15, 1995, at 3:36 a.m., Patrick called 911. He told the dispatcher that his wife had just shot herself in the head.
“No, she’s dead,” he said when the dispatcher asked him if she was breathing.
Austin Police Department Patrolman Terry Gamel was among the first to respond to the Smiths’ small apartment. There was a lot of blood that had likely sprayed from an exit wound on the back of Amanda’s head. Gun cleaning equipment was arrayed near the bed, Gamel recalled.
At the police station, Patrick was “inconsolable,” according to Gamel. He cycled wildly through different emotional states — shouting, crying, and laughing. After he got his basic story down, Gamel let him go home to compose himself.
Four hours later, Patrick returned to the station with a lawyer and spoke with Homicide Detective Bob Merrill. He was calmer, and he told police that he and Amanda had separated eight weeks earlier. He claimed he was with a new woman, but he and Amanda were still seeing each other for sex.
What he said next shocked Det. Merrill — and not just because Patrick’s story had changed. Patrick claimed that Amanda had a “gun fetish” and liked to “caress and suck on” the gun during sex.
He added that Amanda had complained of him being too rough, and he responded that if they couldn’t continue having sex the way he liked, he would kill himself.
He insisted he wasn’t serious, and when Amanda suggested a double-suicide, he didn’t believe she was serious either. Patrick claimed he thought it was “just part of their sex fantasy,” Merrill said.
The night she died, the couple loaded the gun together and kept it between them while they had sex, Patrick told police. Then, Amanda tried to position the two of them so they could both be killed with one bullet.
But she really pulled the trigger, he said.
“I saw the death gasp. About the time her death gasp happened, her body sagged and the blood came out. I said, 'Oh, my God, she's dead,’” Patrick told police, according to court documents.
Patrick went on to claim that Amanda had recently suffered a miscarriage and previously attempted suicide with vodka and pills.
“This was beginning to bubble up as a strange case pretty quick,” Merrill told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Elements of Patrick’s story didn’t sit right with Merrill. Patrick had residue from the gun firing on both of his hands. The fatal gunshot also allegedly went off at 2:20 a.m., leaving almost an hour and a half before Patrick called 911.
The medical examiner, however, listed Amanda’s cause of a death as suicide based on the gunpower residue in her mouth and the exit wound.
Amanda’s family didn’t believe Patrick’s story for a second. Judith kept in touch with her daughter and knew that there was no way Amanda was even thinking about killing herself. Amanda’s brother Vincent, meanwhile, told Merrill that Amanda had a serious fear of guns.
At the time of Amanda's death, Patrick was also facing an abuse charge, and Merrill believed the upcoming court case could be a motive. But the medical examiner declined to change the cause of death, despite the new evidence.
Judith and her husband, Ed, were livid when they got word of the medical examiner’s determination, and they trekked to Austin to confront him in person at his office.
“That son of a bitch was gonna pay for taking my daughter,” Judith told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Judith and Ed started investigating on their own and found that Patrick had recently called Amanda’s employer to ask about any life insurance policy. He had also tried to withdraw money from her personal bank account. They brought all the evidence they had collected to the medical examiner.
Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb, who would later prosecute the case, said it was the first time he could recall a victim’s family confronting a medical examiner in person — and it worked.
About six weeks after Amanda’s death, the medical examiner changed her cause of death to undetermined. That allowed Merrill to crank up his investigation. He spoke to some of Patrick’s exes, who claimed he was abusive and treated them as sex slaves. And then, Patrick’s first wife told Merrill that he was planning to flee the state for California.
Merrill quickly got an arrest warrant and jailed Patrick on an aiding a suicide charge.
“We were glad he was in jail, but it wouldn't be for long,” Judith told producers. “He was so dangerous. He needed to be stopped.”
Merrill soon found out that Patrick’s violence allegedly went back further than his adult relationships. While he was in and out of more than 20 foster homes as a child, he allegedly killed cats and dogs and set fires.
A court-ordered psychological evaluation determined that Patrick was dangerously disturbed. Merrill also had new forensics tests done to prove that Patrick had to have been the one who fired the gun.
Judith and Ed, meanwhile, grew impatient and leaked Patrick’s evaluation to the local press, hoping to put pressure on the courts to charge him with murder.
“I would go after him with my dying breath to get justice,” Judith told producers.
Judith and Ed’s hard work paid off. Patrick went to trial for Amanda’s murder, and the jury was unconvinced by the defense’s case that the medical examiner had gotten Amanda’s cause of death right the first time.
“Would you really put a loaded gun in your mouth for pleasure? That was too much for me,” one juror told “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Patrick was found guilty of Amanda’s murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Judith said that the outcome of her daughter’s case should be a reminder for victims’ families seeking justice: “Question authority. Push authority. Don’t believe everything they want you to believe. Find out for yourself," she said.
For more on Amanda Smith’s murder, including audio of Judith and Ed confronting the medical examiner, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder” at Oxygen.com. New episodes air Saturdays at 6/5c.
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