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Crime News Sins of the South

New Orleans Woman Orders Hit on Pastor Husband to Get Life Insurance Money: "The Perfect Plot"

The defendant, a three-time widow, was described in court as “somebody who can’t get enough of killing her husbands,” said a reporter.

By Joe Dziemianowicz
Emma Smith Raine featured on Sins Of The South Episode 104

On April 12, 2006, police officers responded to a report of a shooting at a New Orleans East apartment complex. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the area was quite desolate.

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“When I arrived the door was wide open,” New Orleans Police Dept. Sgt. Randi Gant told Sins of the South, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

The victim was identified as 38-year-old pastor Ernest Smith by his wife, Emma Smith, who’d called 911.

“He was lying on the stairs,” said Gant. “He had been shot. He had blood all over him. He was clearly already deceased.”

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Who was Ernest Smith?

The Raine House featured on Sins Of The South episode 104

Investigators learned that Ernest was orphaned at age 10 and subsequently taken in by a church group that became his family. The people who raised him set him on a path to become a minister.

“He was driving a truck during the week and then working as a minister on the weekends,” said defense attorney Michael Kennedy.

Ernest, a divorced father of one, and Emma married on November 17, 1990. They settled into a modest home and life together in New Orleans East.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, they moved to Texas with Emma’s children from her first marriage, who Ernest had adopted.

Ernest got an offer to lead a megachurch in Atlanta. En route to their new home, Ernest and Emma returned to New Orleans for a brief stopover. Within a week he was shot dead.

When Emma was questioned by police she said that Ernest had spent the night out with his best friend, Ronald Mason, at a motorcycle race. When he came home she heard a loud pop.

“Emma said she grabbed him and called 911,” said Gant. Then she called his friend, Mason.

Emma said her husband had no enemies, so was the slaying the result of a robbery gone wrong?

The scene was processed for DNA and fingerprints, while detectives collected bullet casings near the front door and Ernest’s keys. There were no witnesses or security cameras in the area.

Clues emerge from the autopsy

Police believed that “someone called out Ernest’s name or something to get him to turn around and then plugged him twice in the chest,” said Kennedy.

Mason told police that as he pulled away on his motorcycle, Ernest’s keys were in his door. He said he was at home with his wife when he learned of the shooting from Emma, a detail his wife confirmed.

Police grappled with finding a motive. The fact that Ernest’s wallet was still on him and his motorcycle was at the scene debunked the notion that the shooting was the result of a theft that took a deadly turn.

The autopsy revealed that the two 9mm shots that killed Ernest were fired from within two feet. Evidence showed that the shooting wasn’t a random act.

But beyond that, the physical evidence was very limited. The only prints and DNA at the scene belonged to the victim, Gant told Sins of the South.

Ernest’s case eventually went cold. In the meantime, Emma moved back to her home state of Mississippi.

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Case gets new attention after 7 years

Emma Smith Raine featured on Sins Of The South Episode 104

The case was revived seven years later when two men reached out to Decynda Chambers, a now-retired detective with the New Orleans Police Dept.

The witnesses, Enoch Raine and William Fowler, were relatives of James Raine, who was having an affair with Emma before Ernest was killed, Kennedy told Sins of the South.

“Ernest was aware of the affair that Emma was having with James and had warned James to stay away from his wife,” said Kennedy.

Two years after Ernest’s murder, Emma and Raine married, later moving to Poplarville, Mississippi, in 2008.

Then, on October 21, 2011, Raine’s mother found James at home in his bed “dead from two gunshot wounds to the head,” said Chambers.  

At the time of the grisly discovery Emma was out of town. She’d asked Raine’s mom to check on her husband because she couldn’t reach him.

“There wasn’t much evidence. Just a dead man in a bed,” Kennedy said.

An alleged confession comes to light

Enoch Raine and Fowler believed that Ernest and James Raine’s murders were connected. The men said that Alfred “Terry” Everette had admitted to killing Ernest, the AP reported.

“Terry Everette confessed that he was hired for the sum of $10,000 to kill Mr. Ernest Smith,” said Chambers. Everette said he’d been hired by James Raine and Emma.

It was also learned that in February 2006, two months before Ernest was killed, James Raine was made the sole beneficiary on Ernest’s $800,000 life insurance policy.

In Mississippi, “they were living in the home built by Ernest Smith’s life insurance money,” said Kennedy.

How could the events not have raised a red flag? They chose an opportune moment when everyone’s focus was elsewhere, according to Chambers.

“It was like the perfect plot because the city was still under construction from the devastation from Hurricane Katrina,” Chambers said. “We were working with limited resources.”

Enoch Raine and Fowler told Chambers that Everette said he believed that Emma ordered a hit on James Raine.

A "black widow" spins a deadly web

When Chambers reviewed Ernest Smith’s case file, she saw that Everette provided information about the slaying that “only the killer would know,” she said.

Other details stood out. Emma had stated that she held her husband as he was bleeding. Photographs showed that she had no blood on her. In addition, her cell phone records showed that she’d called James Raine after calling 911.

As she worked the case, Chambers discovered that Emma’s first husband, Leroy Evans, “mysteriously suffocated.”

Evans’ $25,000 life insurance policy was doubled because it was deemed to be an accidental death, according to Sins of the South.

“It’s a pattern,” said Chambers, who described Emma as a true “black widow.” The motive for her murder-for-hire scheme, she added, was the “insurance proceeds.”

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What happened to Emma Raine Smith?

Emma Smith Raine featured on Sins Of The South Episode 104

In July 2013, Everette was arrested in Galveston, Texas. A month later, Emma, who’d married her fourth husband, John Golston, was arrested in Missouri and brought back to New Orleans.

“She wanted to know which husband she was actually finally being arrested for,” said Chambers. “Which one of the homicides? It was like, wow, this lady is a piece of work.”

According to Kennedy, who was Everette’s defense lawyer, his client declined to cooperate with authorities and flip on Emma in return for leniency.

Everette’s confession to Raine’s relatives led to his conviction on December 6, 2015. He received a life sentence without parole.

In August 2016, Emma’s trial for the murder of Ernest began. Prosecutors presented evidence related to how James Raine died. Due to a lack of evidence, they didn’t bring up Evans’ death.

“This is somebody who can’t get enough of killing her husbands for the insurance money,” John Simerman, a reporter for The Times-Picayune, told Sins of the South.  

“The defense for Emma was that James Raine put her up to it,” said Simerman. “He was the ‘snake in the grass.’ His name was on the insurance policy.”

On August 12, 2016, Emma was found guilty of second degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison, apnews.com reported.

To learn more about the “Betrayal in the Bayous” case, watch Sins of the South, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

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