Preliminary hearing in November 2015 John Exum Parkway shooting death moves forward, case bound over to grand jury

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 23, 2018 at 7:29 PM

A Johnson City man charged in two November 2015 shootings — one that injured a woman and the other that killed a passenger inside a vehicle he was accused of shooting at — was finally able to have a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

The case was delayed in state court after Denver Christian Smith, now 24, became entangled in a federal drug case for which he’s now serving five years in prison. The shootings injured Chelsea Isbell, who was living with Smith and his father, and killed Tiaria Miller, an innocent passerby when Smith was allegedly trying to get someone to stop and give him a ride away from the first shooting scene.

Smith was recently transferred from federal to state custody so his murder case can proceed. He appeared in Washington County General Sessions Court Tuesday for his preliminary hearing. After listening to testimony from five witnesses, Judge Robert Lincoln determined there was probable cause to bind the charges — felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon —  over to a grand jury.

The most gripping testimony Tuesday came from Chelsey Scott, a friend of Miller who was driving them down John Exum Parkway toward West Market Street that night. Scott testified that as they approached the intersection of those two roads, she was in the left lane and saw a man standing in that lane. Other vehicles passed him in the right lane and she veered over to the right lane as well. As she passed, Scott said she saw the man waving something in his hand, then she saw a flash and heard a bang.

“He was screaming, ‘Help me, help me.’ I saw a flash and bang and Tiaria said, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit,’” Scott testified as she began to cry. “At that point I drove straight to the (Johnson City) Medical Center. She was gasping for breath. I was holding her wrist to see if she had a pulse.”

By the time they arrived at the emergency room, Miller’s pulse was undetectable, Scott said. Miller was rushed into the ER for treatment, but later died from her injury. Isbell’s injuries were not life-threatening and she was released from the hospital two days later.

Johnson City Police Investigator Bret Richardson testified that he interviewed Smith and the man admitted shooting Isbell because he “had to.”

Smith told police he worked for the CIA and FBI and he was being chased, Richardson testified.

“He told me he had shot Chelsea once in the head and he shot her again as she fell,” Richardson said. “He ran to get away ... he ran into the road on John Exum Parkway to get somebody to stop. Nobody would stop and he shot into the next car that went by. He said he had to do it because nobody would stop to help him leave the area.”

In what might be considered a cruel twist of fate, Miller was shot within sight of where she lived with her mother. After Miller’s death, friends remembered her as a kind and caring person.

Smith also faces unrelated charges that stem from a burglary that occurred prior to the homicide. That case was reset to be heard at a later date.

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