Couple charged in son's beating death won't take stand

Tennessean/February 14, 2007

Marietta, Georgia — A couple accused in the beating death of their 8-year-old declined to testify in their own defense Tuesday, after a judge strongly advised them not to.

Joseph and Sonya Smith of Mableton face 14 charges that include murder, aggravated assault, cruelty to children and false imprisonment in their son Josef's October 2003 death.

Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning.

The couple had planned to testify as late as Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta's WXIA-TV reported, against the advice of defense attorney Manny Arora.

Arora told Judge James Bodiford while the jury was out of the courtroom that he was trying to dissuade his clients from taking the stand. Bodiford agreed and told the Smiths what they could expect from the prosecutor, Senior Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Dixon.

"If you choose to testify, there is, at least, one danger," Bodiford said. "Experienced counsel is ready to pounce," he said.

"Ms. Dixon is sitting there ready to tear you from limb to limb."

Bodiford gave an example of a difficult question the couple could expect: "Didn't, in fact, you admit to the police officer that you used a glue stick to hit young Josef? Isn't it true?"

The Smiths later told the judge they would not testify, the television station reported.

The Smiths are members of the Brentwood, Tenn.-based Remnant Fellowship Church, which grew out of church leader Gwen Shamblin's Weigh Down Workshop, a Christian diet program she created in 1986.

Prosecutors say Josef Smith was beaten by his parents, locked inside a wooden box and forced to stay in a closet for hours at a time before he died.

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