Gentle Vista man shoots abusive wife in back of head
“Yeah, I was concerned about people on the street. I carried my firearm around with me for home defense,” Andy said.
Illustration by Audrey Isaacson
Andrew Thomas Smith was born in Canada in 1961. He lived there in Bridgeport, British Columbia his whole life, and raised his family there, until he got a divorce. Then, in 1999, when he was 37 years old, he met Jean, an American woman, online. She was 39. “We talked on the telephone,” he later recalled. The two also communicated by email. “Jean was awesome. We got along great. She was adventurous! She was passionate!” Also, “she was previously married; she was still married to this guy in New Jersey. She had a son about twenty years old when we met.” For his part, Andy had grown daughters.
In July of 1999, after the two had communicated long-distance for four months Andy caught a plane and visited Jean at her apartment in Vista. Over the next few months, Andy drove back and forth to California to visit Jean multiple times. Once, he even took the Greyhound bus from Canada to California.
Andy and Jean married in May of 2000, a little more than one year after they met online. Andy moved into Jean’s two-bedroom apartment. Jean’s adult son lived there, too. But after their rent was raised to the point where it seemed nearly the same as a house payment, they started looking for something to buy. Eight months after they were married, in January 2001, the couple bought an older house, a 15-year-old fixer-upper on Rancho Vista Road in Vista. They paid $237,000. Andy said he did all the repairs on the home. Jean’s adult son continued to live with them, in the downstairs portion of the two-story, four bedroom, three bath home. The house had a big driveway, which they shared with one neighbor who lived down the hill. And there were more neighbors on each side. It was a family-friendly area.
Andy was asked to describe what happened on April 13, 2019 — the day he shot his wife. “It was a Saturday.” He didn’t have to go to work. “It was a beautiful sunny day.”
Andy liked to work. “Once I got a green card, my first job was a computer tech in Escondido,” he said later. Over the next nineteen years, while he was married to Jean, Andy held four different jobs. “Always being a technician. I serviced Hewlett Packard computers in Southern California.” Jean had her own job, but, said Andy, “Our finances were always together. My job was to give her my paycheck.”
Andy and Jean never had any children together. Andy said they had a happy relationship, and a good marriage, for about thirteen years.
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
Andy said things started to change sometime around 2013, when Andy was 52 and Jean was 54. “She was a manager for the national dispatch center. She lost that job. Yes, it had impact on her, very much so. She really liked that job. She was very well paid; she was management. When she got released, she was upset. She was depressed about that. She was unhappy. The financial part was difficult.” Life suddenly got hard for Jean. And then it got hard for Andy.
That same year, Jean had surgery. “In 2013, she had a full gastric bypass operation, where they take a big part of the stomach.” Over the years, Jean had gained weight, until she was over 300 pounds, according to Andy. But the gastric bypass surgery was successful, and Jean got down to around 150 pounds. But, said Andy, there were bad side effects from the surgery. He said Jean “threw up all the time.” And there were other digestion problems. And Jean was in constant pain. All this drove her to begin drinking. “We were probably together in that,” Andy admitted later. He began to drink more, along with his wife. “Seemed like the thing to do, I suppose, at the time.” Andy liked rum and Coca-Cola. His wife drank vodka mixed with yogurt — because she was able to keep the yogurt down, in her stomach.
Andy and Jean had side by side desks, positioned so that Andy had a view of the back of his wife’s big swivel chair. While he drank and watched the movie, Andy rested his gun on his desktop.
They were together in the drinking, but not in other ways. “At one stage,” said Andy, “she had early stage menopause, and she was not interested in making love anymore. The alcohol thing got to be more and more. That was when she moved into the guest bedroom, and I don’t think we ever had relations again.” Andy revealed these intimate details when he testified at his own murder trial.
Andy continued to work, and Jean found another job, “She got a job at the Walmart at Vista, and she got to be the manager of the jewelry department.” But “she found that a difficult place to work. The people there were gossipy and catty. She liked to eat by herself. We went to one Walmart function and it was very unpleasant; after that she always ate by herself in her car.”
The next year, in 2014, one of Jean’s beloved dogs bit somebody, and the dog had to be put down. That was awful. That same year, Andy testified, “Jean was arrested for domestic violence. I was getting ready to go to work in the morning; Jean had been drinking all night. She could work herself into a rage against me.” Oddly, it was Jean who dialed 911, but then she hung up. The dispatcher called back. Andy picked up the phone and told the dispatcher that his wife had hit him with a lamp. Deputies came, and Jean was taken to jail. Andy paid $3000 to a bail bondsman to guarantee Jean’s $30,000 bond, and she was released. “I wrote a letter to Bonnie Dumanis — she was the district attorney — and she dropped the charges,” Andy said. However, he added, “Jean decided it was totally my fault. She was very angry with me. One time when I thought she was super angry with me, I thought she was going to attack me. I locked myself in the bathroom, and she started attacking me with the golf club.” Jean hit the wooden door with the club. “It was a nine iron,” recalled Andy. The damaged door was photographed, and those photos were later admitted as evidence.
Jennifer, a neighbor who shared a driveway with Jean and Andy, testified that she did hear loud voices. “A lot of verbal abuse. Just beating someone down mentally, with her words. Always screaming and yelling late into the night. Just terrible, things like, ‘You should kill yourself.’ ‘You’re worthless.’ Things that were hard to hear.”
According to Andy, “Another time, she tried to hack her way through the door with a knife, I was scared.” Andy said he was afraid when he slept in the master bedroom, because Jean had a key. “I would wedge the door shut so she couldn’t force her way into the bedroom while I was sleeping.”
In 2016, while Jean was working at Walmart, she fell and injured her shoulder. Because of the opioid epidemic, doctors were careful about prescribing painkillers, and Jean was only allowed them for a short time, her husband said. Then in 2017, Jean injured her other shoulder after slippping on an ice cube on the floor at home. Again, doctors gave her a limited amount of painkillers. As a result, Andy remembered, “She would go through bottles and bottles of Tylenol. And drink.” Now Jean was no longer able to work. She was stuck at home, drinking and taking pain meds. Andy said she mostly sat in front of her computer. Seated in her big swivel chair, Jean could turn back and forth to either watch television or look at her computer monitor. When he testified four years later, Andy made the point that Jean always had the remote control. She started to put weight on again.
“One time when I thought she was super angry with me, I thought she was going to attack me. I locked myself in the bathroom, and she started attacking me with the golf club.” Jean hit the wooden door with the club. “It was a nine iron,” recalled Andy.
Andy continued his routine of going to work every day. “I would never drink during work or before work or anything like that,” he said. “I would have three or four drinks in the evening and go to bed and get up in the morning and do it all over again.” Jean developed a routine of her own, he said — an abusive routine. He said she would often drink in the evenings and then hate on her husband. “She was very abusive, just swearing, just yelling. She was just calling me names. I was just never good enough.” After he said this at his trial, he heaved a sigh. Responding to an attorney, he insisted that he never got used to it. “It was horrible. It was abuse. I hated it. I did not expect to be yelled at.”
Attorneys for both sides asked him why he didn’t just leave. “That’s a very good question,” he replied. “I have asked myself that. I was trying to stay in the marriage. I thought I could fix it. I didn’t want a divorce, I thought I could fix it.” Andy told the jury, “I still loved my wife very much. I thought I could help. I thought I could stick it out.” But he couldn’t.
Andy said that over the years, their neighborhood degraded, and that by 2017, “We heard sirens all the time. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood, I didn’t feel safe. Our neighborhood had a problem with drugs. There were gangs; there was gang graffiti on the sidewalk. I found needles on the sidewalk, booze bottles. Evidently, they partied on our street. More than once, the DEA busted a house in our neighborhood for drugs.”
Andy confessed from the witness box, “I’m not sure where I was when I turned and fired. I took the gun out of my hoodie pocket and fired.” Andy said he did not say anything to her. “I could see the top of her head, from the chair.”
Andy took action. “I was just cautious.” They already had one lock on the front door, and he added a deadbolt. Plus, “we got security doors; they have a deadbolt on them.” And he bought a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol. “Yeah, I was concerned about people on the street. I carried my firearm around with me for home defense,” Andy said. Back in 1996, while he was still living in Canada, Andy had taken firearm safety course. Now, he practiced shooting at the Iron Sights range in nearby Oceanside. But he was concerned about Jean getting access to the pistol. To keep the gun from her, he explained, “I would have it with me. When I was at home, I would carry the firearm with me.” He said he kept the gun, loaded, in his hoodie pocket while he walked around his house. “And when I went into the bedroom, the gun went with me. I locked it up.” An attorney asked Andy if Jean ever made a move for his gun. He answered, “I did not give her an opportunity.”
THE LAST YEAR
By April of 2019, Andy was the only one working. He had a job and a car. “I supported the family” — himself, his wife, and her adult son. Andy worked five days a week. He typically left for work at 6 am. Sometimes in the morning, he found that his wife had been up all night; if she was drunk, sometimes she said mean things as he was leaving he the house. He usually came back home around 4:30 or 5 pm. Sometimes, he had a positive interaction with his wife at that time, but sometimes it was negative. Sometimes, Jean had already begun drinking again by the time he got home. By that point, “I was pretty much a wreck. I was not happy.”
Andy was asked to describe what happened on April 13, 2019 — the day he shot his wife. “It was a Saturday.” He didn’t have to go to work. “It was a beautiful sunny day.” First thing in the morning, he took a shower and went to the barber and got a haircut. He came home and made himself breakfast: bacon and eggs and toast. He cleaned up the kitchen and moved the furniture and got out the vacuum. There was dog hair everywhere — Jean had collected four big dogs by that time — so Andy had to change out the vacuum bag several times. His vacuuming woke up Jean, who usually got up about 1 in the afternoon, and she came out of her room. Jean said, “Hello, how are you?” Andy said he believed Jean was in a good mood because he was cleaning up the house. She made efforts to clean herself up, which had become difficult after her painful shoulder injuries. She bathed and brushed her teeth. She gave her husband a hug and a kiss. The couple walked their dogs around the backyard for a bit. Then, “I went and got a movie.” He set up the TV so they could watch the movie: Taken3.
Andy said he had no more food after breakfast. He got a yogurt for his wife, because that was her favorite food after her gastric bypass surgery. “She made her own drink” with the yogurt, mixing it with vodka. Andy started drinking his usual rum and Coke. While they watched the movie, they sat in their usual seats in the living room. They had side by side desks, positioned so that Andy had a view of the back of his wife’s big swivel chair. While he drank and watched the movie, Andy rested his gun on his desktop.
After the movie, the neighbors who had recently bought a Harley Davidson could be heard revving it up. Jean had had a few drinks by that time, and she became angry about the noise. She stood in the doorway of the house, yelling.
At the trial, a neighbor named Cheryl testified, “I was waiting for a food delivery.” She guessed it was about 4:30 pm that Saturday afternoon. She was standing out near the main road with her dog, and she heard Jean yell something: “Tell her to shut the eff up!” Cheryl said, “She was standing in her doorway when she yelled that. They lived directly across from our house.” Cheryl had lived there for eleven years by then. She remembered that over the years, she had been able to hear “a lot of just yelling. The yelling increased over time, yes. The yelling incidents were increasing.” Cheryl guessed she heard yelling maybe three or four times a week. What words could she hear yelled? Shut up! Leave me the eff alone! Shut those effing dogs up! You stupid fucking idiot! Cheryl didn’t really know the woman who lived there, but she had seen the husband. Cheryl said of Andy, “He did come over and talk to my husband a lot.” That Saturday afternoon, after her food delivery came, Cheryl and her dog went inside her home.
Another neighbor, Laura, who has lived on Rancho Vista Road for 28 years, testified, “I can hear them holler, yes.” Laura explained, “Their bedroom window is close to my bedroom window.” When she was in court, Laura confirmed that in 2010, “My husband and I decided to put in a double-paned window because of the noise.” Laura said the yelling happened three or sometimes four nights a week, and that usually, it was the woman she could hear. “Yes, it was usually the female voice. Frequently she used profanity.” Sometimes she could hear the man, Andy, yes. And what would she hear him say? “He would tell her to calm down and go to bed. To shut up. Not much other than that.”
Another neighbor, Jennifer, also gave testimony. “I’m down a hill; we share the same driveway; their back area is visible to my front area.” Jennifer has lived on Rancho Vista Road for eight years; she is a stay-at-home mom. She testified that she did hear loud voices. “A lot of verbal abuse. Just beating someone down mentally, with her words. Always screaming and yelling late into the night. Just terrible things like, ‘You should kill yourself.’ ‘You’re worthless.’ Things that were hard to hear.” Jennifer said she could hear the yelling plainly when she was in her garage, “or hanging out in the front yard, or getting in my car to leave. It happened every day, from the moment we moved in. I knew that she drank. I could watch her pour her drinks. Her kitchen is facing my garage.” Jennifer remembered that the voice of the woman would become slurred over time as she yelled out profanities. “The only one who would yell and raise her voice was the female.” But Jennifer had never met that female, in person. “My sister, who lives with me too, she would go up to the door, because she would yell at our children.” Jennifer said she had met the man, Andy, “on a couple occasions.”
That Saturday evening, after the movie, Jean was watching music videos on her computer and Andy was playing Spider Solitaire on his computer. At about 5 pm, her son came up from downstairs, and Jean told him she wanted him to go get their dinner. She had decided on Panda Express. Andy would not drive late in the day, after he had been drinking. “In 2019, Jean’s son was almost 40 years old,” Andy told the jury. “He was still at the house, but he was not working full-time. In the summertime, he had a job at the Del Mar fair. Jean was very, very strict with her son. She would hit him. She would abuse him. It was a rocky relationship.” Andy said that when Jean would criticize her adult son, “I would try to help him. I thought it was rather unfair, some of the criticisms she would put on him.” But, he added, “She would get very angry with me for getting in the way of her and her son’s relationship.” So, “the best thing I found to do, was not to pay any attention, let them have at it, find something else to do.”
This time, however, he got involved. Jean wanted to give her son a credit card to purchase food and alcohol. But her husband said it would be better to give him cash. Andy explained to the jury that he was trying to prevent Jean’s son from buying items he should not buy. Jean’s middle-aged son was very overweight, and he had diabetes and other health problems. Andy said that Jean “was not monitoring his eating habits. He was drinking sodas and fast food, which was unhealthy for him.” (Jean’s son reportedly passed away 90 days after the incident, from his diabetes and other health problems.)
So that Saturday afternoon, Andy and Jean began to argue. “Well, first of all, she got mad at me, because I was getting in the way of her and her son. Something to the effect of, ‘Mind your own business!’ She was doing her regular; when she gets mad, she raises her voices and calls names, the usual. She was just berating me once again. She was yelling and calling me all the names.” Andy also admitted, “I was probably quite drunk by that point.” Andy picked up his pistol, which was on his desk. He put the gun in the pocket of his hoodie, and he got up to go to his room to get cash to give to Jean’s son.
THE SHOT AND THE CALL
Andy confessed from the witness box, “I went to get the cash. I got to the hallway and I took the gun out of my pocket and I shot her. I’m not sure where I was when I turned and fired. I took the gun out of my hoodie pocket and fired.” Andy said he did not say anything to her. “I could see the top of her head, from the chair.” Jean was facing her computer, the back of her tall chair was toward her husband. Andy answered an attorney’s question: yes, he pointed at the back of her head. And he pulled the trigger. No, he could not really see her. “The way she sat in the chair, the chair was bigger than she was.” He could see the hair on top of her head.
“Honestly, I lost my temper,” he said. “I had had enough by that point. She pushed my buttons a lot. I lost my temper at that point. I was super, super, super angry at myself. The noise of the gun scared me. It was a shock, actually.” He walked to the chair in which Jean was slumped. “I went to the chair and turned it and looked at Jean. I freaked out, and put the gun down on the desk. And I called 911.”
The recorded emergency call was clocked at 5:54 pm that day. It was played in court two years later, for a jury. Andy immediately told the dispatcher, “Hi, I have a problem. I just shot my wife in the head. I think she’s dead.” It was a remarkable shot, fired from across the room. Just one bullet. It passed through the back of Jean’s chair and entered one side of her neck and went out the other side of her neck. That one shot severed her spinal cord, and she quickly died. During the 911 call, after Andy gave the dispatcher his address, he said, “That is the end of my life. That sucks.” His voice was calm; he seemed resigned to his fate.
Jean’s son came up from downstairs. Andy asked him to put their four dogs into the backyard, before deputies arrived. Andy said into the phone, “And you guys are going to come and get me and take me to jail. And I am going to spend the rest of my fricking life in jail. She finally pushed me to the limit. I am so sorry, but she did. Crap, I am never gonna sleep in my own bed again.”
THE MURDER TRIAL
Prosecutor Justine Santiago told the jury, “He decided he didn’t want to put up with it anymore. He decided that he had had enough. He decided to silence her, once and for all.” Andy was immediately arrested and charged with murder. But because of covid, the murder trial for Andrew Thomas Smith, 60, did not begin until July 2021. He wore an open-collar dress shirt each day of the trial; it was hot that week. He had short, gray hair and moustache, and he wore eye glasses. He is a large man but he did not look scary; he looked more like a gentle giant. He kept a humble posture and wore a pleading look on his face.
Private criminal defense attorney Bradley Patton asked the jury to consider second-degree murder, or even voluntary manslaughter. Patton insisted that the defendant acted under the influence of provocation, which creates a “heat of passion” element. Patton said, “You can come to a reasonable conclusion, find him not-guilty of murder.” But yes, guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
A big part of the defense’s case was a collection of video recordings: four different clips, totaling about 40 minutes. Sometimes Andy took video of family get-togethers, and their dogs, and holidays. In so doing, he captured video showing his drunken wife saying awful things to him. “She would get drunk and abusive, and I would take videos of her. She said she didn’t remember what she was doing.” Andy said he would show the videos to his wife when she had sobered up, and she would be shocked. But then a few days later, she would act the same way. He guessed that he took “more than ten” videos of her horrible, drunken tirades. The first three videos the defense showed featured Jean slurring horrifying insults at her husband. The hurtful statements were so awful that it left this witness shell shocked, feeling as if her soul had been damaged, even to hear it.
In her opening statements to the jury, the prosecutor admitted, “Members of the jury, you are not going to hear about how great of a person she is. About a kind soul, about, how kind of a soul she has, how loved she was. And on the other hand, you’re also not going to hear that the defendant was a terrible person, a monster, heartless being, no. But what the evidence will show are his actions, his choices, his decisions that day. And how, when he decided he had enough, and that he didn’t want to take it anymore. When he took that gun, pointed it at the back of her head, pulled the trigger, he had decided to kill his wife.”
The last video shown to the jury was taken one week before Andy shot his wife, on April 7, 2019. In this last video, both Andy and his wife are calling each other names. They are both clearly drunk, slurring their words. In one exchange, they ask each other, ‘Why don’t you shoot yourself in the head?’”
The jury of six women and six men deliberated for about one hour before declaring Andrew Thomas Smith guilty of first-degree murder. Honorable Sim von Kalinowski, the same judge who heard the trial, sentenced 60-year-old Andrew Smith to 25 years to life for first degree murder. In addition, the use of firearm causing death increases the penalty another 25 years. Those terms to be served consecutively, so the total is 50 years to life.
On the day of sentencing, August 17, 2021, the convicted murderer had 857 days custody credits, so far. The judge spoke directly to Andrew Smith and said, “The solution to an unhappy marriage is a divorce.”