Former Forest Hill Funeral Home owner may not go to trial

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Attorneys for Former Forest Hill Funeral Home owner Clayton Smart are working on a plea deal that will keep their client out of a jury trial.

With his trial date looming, Smart looked tired as he entered Criminal Court Monday in a gray jail suit.

"I can tell you that he's tired of being in 201 Poplar, and we hope to get him out," said Lee Gerald, one of Smart's attorneys.

Monday, prosecutors agreed to separate Smart's case from his co-defendants: former financial adviser, Mark Singer, and former business partner, Stephen Smith.

"Singer wishes to go forward and we do not anticipate going forward on a trial, so we split them up," Gerald said.

Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. gave attorneys two weeks to hash out Smart's plea deal.

"We're dealing with Oklahoma, Tennessee and Michigan, so it's not something that can happen overnight," said Michael Scholl, another of Smart's attorneys. "Plus, you're dealing with federal court and state court."

In two weeks, Smith's fate may also be determined, but attorneys would not say if the plea deal would get him out of a life sentence.

"He's been in 201 Poplar for three years, which is a long enough sentence in itself," Scholl said.
Prosecutor William Bright said victims will still have their day in court.

"I don't think you're going to be able to say Mr. Smart got out of this deal," Bright said. "In other words, the final objective it to have everyone held accountable."

Gerald said Smart is regretful, and it appears he could change his plea to guilty.

"At some point in time, we anticipate full responsibility for the events," he said.

And Scholl pointed out that a civil court recouped lost funds for pre-paid policy holders.

"A lot of people will not be out of any damages of any type, so I think there have been a lot of efforts in that area," he said.

If negotiations fall apart, Smart could still go to trial.  Meanwhile, jury selection is underway for Mark Singer's trial.  It could last up to six weeks, with many witnesses and documents involved.

Judge Higgs ordered Smart to return to court on April 20.

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