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Two former Fort Bragg, N.C., soldiers will spend the rest of their lives in prison after pleading guilty to the 2008 murder of Christina Smith, also a soldier and the wife of one of the conspirators.
According to court testimony, Richard Smith picked up Matthew Wayne Kvapil, gave him a knife and drove him to a hiding spot around the corner from the home in the Hillendale, N.C., neighborhood where Smith lived with his wife.
He then went home on that final night of September 2008 and invited Christina out for a walk.
Kvapil, dressed in black, waited until the Smiths were about 10 paces past him. Kvapil then came from behind and stabbed Army Sgt. Christina Smith four times, severing her jugular. While she struggled with Kvapil, Richard Smith watched.
Smith had promised Kvapil $30,000 to kill his wife.
Both men, who were co-workers in the same Fort Bragg psychological operations unit as Christina Smith, admitted their roles in the crime Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.
Neither showed any expression as they were brought separately into the courtroom in orange jumpsuits and leg shackles, then sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison with no chance of parole.
Smith, 30, had asked other people to kill his wife before Kvapil agreed.
Maj. Monique Guerrero remembers seeing Kvapil at work the day after the murder. Guerrero had previously taken a lost-looking Kvapil to breakfast on his first day at Fort Bragg and had promised his mother she would look out for him.
"You came to me shaking, in tears, and I wrapped my arms around you," Guerrero said to Kvapil when prosecutors allowed Christina Smith's friends and family an opportunity to speak in court. "I tried to comfort you the day after you murdered my friend, your friend, our soldier.
"I will pray for your family, as I have, and I hope you rot in hell."
Kvapil was an 18-year-old private first class who was easily manipulated and looked to Robert Smith as a father figure, said Kvapil's lawyer, Pam Leslie.
Kvapil originally agreed to the contract killing without knowing who the victim was going to be, Leslie said. He initially refused when he learned his co-worker -- Smith's wife -- was the target. He went through with the crime after Smith threatened to harm him or his family, she said.
"Every single day, I feel your knife twisting in my heart," Christina Smith's mother, Kathy Loehrke, told Kvapil as he looked straight ahead, expressionless.
Richard Smith knocked on neighbors' doors to try to get help while his wife bled out on the street. He rode to the hospital with her, where he told police he could not remember much about the attacker.
Guerrero, who saw Smith that night at the hospital, said he spoke in a robotic monotone and did not seem to be as distraught as most people in his situation would have been. Steve Loehrke, Christina Smith's father, said he thought Smith was involved as soon as he saw how little blood was on his clothes. It didn't make sense, he said. Why hadn't he tried to help?
Richard Smith married Christina Loehrke six summers ago in her family's front yard. About 40 people in the small town of Mount Orab, Ohio, came to the Loehrke farm that day; even the dog wore a bow tie.
They watched as Smith and Loehrke -- he in an Army uniform, she in a navy blue dress -- promised to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, as long as they both should live.
"We brought you into our family," Steve Loehrke said to Smith in court Monday. "We called you 'son.' "
In wrongful death lawsuits related to the murder, a judge ordered Richard Smith and Kvapil to pay $20 million to Christina Smith's estate. Richard Smith's parents, David and Bobbie Smith of Denton, Texas, were ordered to pay $275,000 because of their involvement in handling the couple's money and possessions after the murder. Steve Loehrke said Smith's parents have moved and have not been heard from since being found liable in the suit.
Christina was valedictorian of her high school class and a talented musician who could speak Spanish, French and some Korean. Her future seemed as bright as the smile her friends and family often say they most remember about her. When she joined the Army in 2005, her parents worried she might face danger in Iraq or Afghanistan. Smith, who was 29 when she died, was training for her first deployment.
Smith's death was the last of three military-related homicides in the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg community that summer that received national attention. All three were incidents of domestic violence.
Her family sponsors two scholarships in her memory. Soldiers from her unit stay in touch with the family; Guerrero calls Steve Loehrke "Dad."
Steve Loehrke said it's a shame the criminal case took four years to wind through the court system. That's too long for any family to wait for justice, he said.
He said after Monday's plea deal, there's some sort of closure for the family, but it does nothing to replace the sense of emptiness since Christina died.
"Yeah, it's over with," he said. "I miss my daughter."
|Crime in the Military|