This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Draper • Walter Rollo Smith wore the white uniform of a prison inmate Tuesday, not the uniform of a Marine Corps reservist.
With his head down, the 29-year-old man listened as a member of the Utah State Board of Pardons recounted the events that brought him to the Utah State Prison four years ago.
"You killed your wife, Nicole, in March 2006," Board member Curtis Garner said. Smith looked up and offered a clarification: "We were not married."
At Smith's first parole hearing since he pleaded guilty to second-degree felony manslaughter, the family of 22-year-old Nicole Speirs asked that her killer serve all 15 years of his prison sentence.
"He's walking, talking, breathing," the woman's uncle, Kent Broadbent, said. "Nicole lays in a grave in Tooele. ... We're not asking for justice. The state of Utah cannot offer justice because they'd have to execute Mr. Smith. But what we would ask for is a measure of fairness."
In 2006, Smith and Speirs were taking a bath together in the Tooele duplex where they lived with their 10-month-old twin children. Speirs leaned over to rinse her head and Smith held her there, under the water.
Smith apologized to Speirs' family, calling it "the only thing I can do."
"What I did was horrible and there's no way I can change it," he said. "If me doing all 15 years helps them at all, OK. I didn't plan on killing Nicole, but I did and there's no way to make up for it."
Smith, who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, was diagnosed by the military with post-traumatic stress disorder. His unit engaged in firefights that involved civilians and children and saw "more trauma than many soldiers," his defense attorney said in 2007, when Smith pleaded guilty to the reduced count of manslaughter.
Smith said he had experienced flashbacks and violent thoughts since returning from duty, but had never had such impulses toward Speirs before the slaying.
Smith originally told police he came home from a family gathering in Idaho to find his girlfriend dead in the bathtub.
But eight months later, after checking into a Veteran's Affairs hospital with suicidal tendencies, Smith confessed to killing the woman.
"It got harder not saying anything about it," he said, "and also to say anything about it."
A medical examiner's report was unable to determine whether the woman's death was an accident and a second autopsy, conducted after Smith's confession, did not lead to any new findings.
Smith said he has not experienced flashbacks in several years.
"My psychiatrist says even complete sociopaths can function pretty well in prison because the environment is so controlled," Smith said. "I feel I'm doing fine, but there haven't been any external stressors that would test me."
Pauline Speirs, Nicole's mother, said she believes Smith has used PTSD as "an excuse" and some family members believe the slaying may have been prompted by a threat that Smith would have to pay child support for his twins.
Pauline Speirs and her husband have since adopted their grandchildren, who are now 6 years old. She lamented that her daughter never got to experience their first birthdays or her first Mother's Day.
"They've always known us as Mom and Dad," Speirs told The Tribune. "We do talk to them about Mommy Nicole. We've taken them to the cemetery. We talk about her all the time."
Garner, the Board of Pardons member, centered his last question for Smith on his young children.
"If some day in the future you happen to meet your children, what would you say to them?" Garner asked. "They're going to be adults some day. They might want to look you up."
"I hope so," Smith said, his face turning red and his eyes filling with tears. "I hope they can forgive me. I don't know what I would say."
The Board of Pardons and Parole usually takes several weeks to decide a case.