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Claims someone else committed murder may be allowed at Smith trial
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff

Kenneth E. Smith


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Published: 7/17/2008 2:23 PM | Updated: 7/18/2008 12:17 AM

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Despite her recent recantation, a McHenry woman's claims that she and two others were responsible for the 2001 slaying of Lakemoor businessman Raul Briseno -- and not suspect Kenneth E. Smith -- could be heard by jurors deciding Smith's fate, a judge said Thursday.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather ruled that Smith's defense may be able to introduce the incriminating statements by Susanne DeCicco, which police say they investigated thoroughly but ultimately rejected as not credible.

However, Prather said she would not be able to decide which of DeCicco's many statements to police, friends and relatives would be permitted until she learns what exactly she said and the circumstances under which she said it. That will not likely happen until the midst of the trial.

"The court simply does not have enough information at this time to rule," she said. "Some of the statements may qualify for admission, some may not."

If allowed, the statements could boost Smith's case as he defends himself against first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery charges stemming from Briseno's slaying. Authorities say Smith, 32, of Park City, fatally shot the 35-year-old victim during a botched holdup of his Burrito Express restaurant.

In the months after the slaying, DeCicco began telling friends and family members that she, her cousin and a former boyfriend were responsible for the murder, not Smith. She maintained those claims even when interviewed years later by state police investigators.

However, when questioned under oath last year and again in June, DeCicco, 25, testified that she made up the claims to impress people and upset her ex-boyfriend.

Regardless of how she ultimately rules, Prather made one thing clear Thursday: nothing DeCicco says can be believed.

"I'm going to be very hard-pressed to find any statement of Susanne DeCicco to be trustworthy," she said.

Smith initially was convicted of Briseno's murder in 2003 and sentenced to 67 years in prison. A state appeals court, however, overturned the verdict two years later and ordered a new trial, which is now scheduled to begin Aug. 11.