In the past two weeks, reporters from NBC’s “Dateline” have been here. Of course. It is the perfect “Dateline” story, with odd characters, funny accents and incongruous violence.
“Like something right out of ‘Fargo,’ ” one reporter quipped during a break last week.
Quietly, many residents predicted Smith would be convicted. Yet it was never really certain because fear is a powerful emotion up close.
You could see that when Smith’s attorneys passed a photo of his stolen Remington 12-gauge shotgun around to jurors. The message: The gun was still out there. What would you do?
But in the end, the Morrison County jury chose the rule of law over fear and emotion.
As neighbors of Smith got up to talk about him in court last week, they portrayed a place where people alternately cared for one another and deeply distrusted each other.
Neighbor William Anderson talked about how he and his wife looked after Smith’s parents, “blew snow and cut grass,” but he also spoke of their suspicions of another nearby family and about several burglaries at Smith’s house.
“Dogs all come to the dish again,” Anderson said he warned Smith. “I know this isn’t over yet.”
Asked if he liked the suspect family, Anderson replied, “They are my neighbors, and I have to live with it.”
Neighbors helping neighbors. Neighbors watching neighbors. Neighbors burglarizing neighbors. Neighbors killing neighbors.
Another witness with the lyrical, “Dateline”-worthy name of Brian-Paul Klein Crowder, showed just how intertwined the town is and why so few were willing to talk about the case.
Crowder serves as the city’s alderman. And hair stylist. And cemetery keeper.
He made cemetery arrangements for Smith and cut the hair of Smith’s mother. As alderman, he represents many of those involved.
Crowder talked about sensing Smith’s fear when he and his mom visited Smith in the days before the shooting. It was a nice tour of his property, with a man increasingly frazzled and unstable, and apparently so angry he hid his truck to lure the teens to his home.
And now Crowder stands to go from a witness to a character on “Dateline.”
The town will never be the same. Reporters like to say that. But it will, or at least close to it.
Normalcy will return to most of the people, apart from the occasional nod to the “old Smith place.”
Or maybe school kids will always remember the strange words Smith uttered to himself after the shootings on a recording that turned out to be the best witness against him: