Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - Updated: 3:31 PM
The Marshall County Sheriff’s Office filed an arrest warrant Feb. 24 for 37-year-old Mark E. Smith of Benton, charging him with arson 1st degree, a Class A felony punishable by 20-50 years or life in a state penitentiary and assault 1st degree, a Class B felony punishable by 10-20 years in a state penitentiary. The charges stemmed from an incident that took place at a Possum Trot home Jan. 28 during which Edward Harris was assaulted and his home was lit on fire. Smith’s warrant was served by the Paducah Police Dept. as he is being held in the McCracken County Jail for unrelated charges but will remain in custody on a $500,000 cash bond for the most recent charges.
According to the warrant filed by Detective Captain Matt Hilbrecht of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, who was assisted in the investigation by Detective Jeff Daniel, firefighters were sent to Harris’ home at 427 Walker Harris Lane by central dispatch after ADT reported receiving an alert from a smoke detector. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they discovered a recliner on fire in the living room and Harris lying in the utility room and blood smeared around the room.
“It was readily apparent that the victim had a large head wound to both the front and the back of his head,” the warrant reads. “The victim also had a large amount of thermal damage to the right side of his body.”
Harris was air-lifted to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville due to the severity of his injuries and Hilbrecht said as of Monday morning, he was still hospitalized there in stable condition. Hilbrecht said due to the extent of Harris’ burns and the massive head trauma, the amount of recovery and the time that will take is still unclear.
The warrant states law enforcement became involved due to the suspicious nature of the fire and the victim’s injuries, and it was apparent to police the single source of the fire within the residence was contained to the living room recliner. In addition, burn patterns appeared to indicate the fire was intentionally set.
Hilbrecht reported locating a broken wooden handle lying just inside the front door, a broken shovel beneath an end table with the blade having “what appeared to be blood and hair on it.” According to the document, police were, at a later date, able to piece together the shovel with the broken handle, which they say fit together.
Police believe Smith had stolen guns and had money from Harris’ checking account. They said Smith was aware Harris was in the process of pursuing criminal charges against him and they believed the assault was an effort to prevent criminal prosecution.
Later, a vehicle matching the vehicle in the security camera footage outside Harris’ home was located at the residence on Boone Hill Road where Smith was residing with a female. Officers served a search warrant for the van, residence and Smith on Feb. 3 and that same day conducted an interview with Smith during which he allegedly admitted driving past Harris’ residence “to see if the victim was still awake” for a man who allegedly “wanted to purchase pain pills from the victim.”
Hilbrecht ruled out the man and his girlfriend, both of whom Smith had named as being in the residence the day of the incident, so he and Daniel conducted a second interview Feb. 24 at the McCracken County Jail where he is being held for probation violation related to a case in Livingston County. It was during that interview, Smith allegedly admitted striking Harris with the shovel and setting a recliner on fire.
Regarding the outcome of the investigation Hilbrecht said, “We are tickled for the family who will rest better now knowing we got the right person and we’re asking the community to continue praying for Mr. Harris and his family.”
Smith is scheduled to appear in Marshall District Court March 1 for arraignment on the current charges as well as a preliminary hearing for another active case in which he has been charged with fraudulent use of a credit card under $10,000, forgery 2nd degree and fraudulent use of a credit card under $500 within a six month period.