Daniel Densmore accused of killing friend who often helped him

Daniel Densmore accused of killing friend who often helped him

October 2nd, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith and Mariann Martin in News

Investigators talk in September after Julious Wayne Smith and Krista Danae Babb were killed and their bodies burned at a house in Rocky Face, Ga. Photo by Mariann Martin

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ABOUT THIS STORY


This story was compiled from interviews with family members and friends, the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, birth and death certificates, criminal records, marriage licenses and divorce filings.

A Georgia parole board released Daniel Densmore 13 months early from state prison.

He had completed nearly two years of his second prison sentence for writing bad checks and for violating probation on a previous charge of breaking into a home and stealing electronics.

After 10 years of Densmore making bad decisions, family members say he was determined to change in the summer of 2010. He got a job. Moved into a rental house with his girlfriend.

This house was owned by a man known for his compassion, a man who bought groceries for unemployed friends and often allowed his tenants to pay rent when they could.

Julious Wayne Smith wanted to help Densmore get back on his feet. Twice as old as Densmore, Smith was a mentor and an uncle through Densmore's former marriage.

But Densmore always was coming back for more.

He needed to borrow cash for gas or needed more time to pay past due rent. But it was never enough, and ultimately, police say, Densmore took it all -- Smith's money and his life. A family friend who happened to be at Smith's home, 14-year-old Krista Danae Babb, also was killed.

The Sept. 17 killings rocked the quiet Rocky Face neighborhood in Whitfield County.

Densmore faces two felony murder charges along with counts of arson, armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

His family is haunted by the charges, convinced he couldn't have pulled the trigger, even though police say they have damning evidence.

Daniel Densmore faces two felony murder charges along with counts of arson, armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

And Smith's family and friends cling to the memories of a man who cared for kids, loved to tell stories and never passed up a chance to throw his fishing line into the water.

GENEROUS MAN

A family man. A super-nice guy. Those are the words friends and neighbors use to describe Smith. Born and raised in Whitfield County, he spent most of his life in Rocky Face.

He served in the Vietnam War and married Donna Gallegos in 1973, when he was 23. They had a son and daughter before divorcing 17 years later.

He spent most of his life building homes, trading cars and working on computers. He built the three gray frame homes lined up on Honeybee Way off Mount Vernon Road, living in the middle home with renters on either side.

Next door is the brick home where his parents lived until they passed away. He shared his father's first name, Julious, but everyone called him Wayne.

He was well known at the local garden center, gas stations and body shops, where he would drop by to chat with his friends almost every day, often with his young granddaughter by his side.

If Smith had a fault, it was that he was plainspoken, even outspoken. He usually told people the way it was.

He also helped people, generously, never expecting repayment.

Randy and Betty Lou Stapp were both laid off work in 2009, and Smith handed Betty Lou money for groceries -- $200 one day and $250 several weeks later.

When Mike Barker started an auto finishing business two years ago and cash was tight, Smith showed up at his door lugging sacks of groceries. He also bought parts for Barker's struggling business.

But what people remember most were Smith's relationships with young people. He urged them to finish their education. He visited 16-year-old Jacob Lockhart at his father's body shop, helping him work on cars.

He befriended Krista, her older sister and their single mother.

Even though they lived in Chatsworth, nearly 20 miles from Smith's home, Smith offered his support however he could.

"He was a mentor and role model," Betty Lou Stapp said. "Kids loved him."

Maybe it was because Smith had lost his only son.

Dawson Smith was born severely handicapped and died when he was 11 years old. He is buried at Whitfield Memorial Gardens, near his grandparents. White roses and a bronze marker with roses swirled around the edges mark his grave.

"Losing his son like that, I think that is what made him such a father figure to all the kids," Randy Stapp said.

SPLIT PERSONALITIES

Densmore's mother, Tonya, said he was a mischievous boy growing up. She asked that her last name not be disclosed to protect her other son's identity and keep him from being associated with the crime Daniel Densmore is accused of.

Daniel played harmless tricks on people, cracked jokes, loved to laugh, she said.

In 1997, at age 17, he decided school was a waste of time and dropped out of LaFayette High School to work.

Two years later, his life began a downward spiral. He spent time with the wrong crowd, his mother said.

She tried to warn Densmore to change his life, but he wouldn't listen. He was easily led, she said.

In 2000, divorced from his first wife, Carol Lea, Densmore drove away with a Jeep Cherokee from a Calhoun car dealership. Two weeks later, Densmore reported the Jeep stolen, claiming he had been kidnapped and held in captivity for days, authorities said.

He was charged with theft by deception and making false statements to police.

The next year, Densmore wrote a check for $290 on someone else's account and cashed it. He was convicted of forgery.

By the time he was 22, he had been convicted of three crimes and had violated probation. The court sent him to state prison for four years, where he received drug and alcohol treatment, and another six years on probation.

Three days before he was sentenced to prison he wrote a poem. "To do the right thing you have to be strong," he began.

His mother and younger sister visited him in prison. For four years, they dropped everything to drive hours to see him.

When Densmore was released in 2006, he told his mother he was going to change.

But that same year, his girlfriend received an order of protection against Densmore, claiming he had struck and threatened her.

Two years later, Densmore was arrested again for writing bad checks. By the time he was arrested in Floyd County in mid-2008, he had exhausted his probation and the courts sent him back to state prison.

This time, Tonya decided not to visit her son in jail.

"I'm done," she told him.

But when he was released in the summer of 2010, she let Densmore move back in with her, her husband and his 10-year-old half-brother, deciding to give him another chance.

FRIENDS

When Densmore was born in May 1979 in Florida, Smith was nearly 30 years old and married. Their paths didn't cross until Densmore was grown, about four years ago.

In January 2008, Densmore married Smith's niece, Jennifer Fowler. Three months later, Densmore and Fowler were separated, and she filed for divorce in November 2008.

An portrait of a young Daniel Densmore hangs in the home of his mother. Densmore is charged with the fatal shooting of Julius Wayne Smith and Krista Babb.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

The divorce papers were served to the Whitfield County Jail, where Densmore was being held after being arrested on more forgery charges. Jennifer is serving a prison term for possession of methamphetamine and meth pipes.

But Smith's relationship with Densmore didn't end with the marriage.

Four months after Densmore was released from prison last summer, Smith let him move into one of his rental homes, a duplex with a tenant on the other side.

Densmore got a job at the Choo Choo Truck Wash, but he also worked with Smith, helping him pick up and deliver cars.

"They were always good friends, always together," Lockhart said.

Densmore often was behind on his rent, but Smith let him pay what he could every month. He hired Densmore's girlfriend to clean his house a few times a month.

After Densmore's now-fiancee gave birth to their son, the couple moved into her mother's trailer in Tunnel Hill. It was a mutual decision and neither man seemed upset about the move.

On the Monday before the shooting, Densmore stopped by to see Smith. He needed money for gas. Smith handed him $40.

"Smith has done so much for that kid; he's bent over backwards for him," Barker said. "Crazy, just crazy."

CHANGED MAN?

When Densmore was released early from Emanuel-Swainsboro State Prison in the summer of 2010, he seemed different, his family said.

"I'm through," he told his mother. "I'm going to get a job doing whatever. I'm through."

And she believed him, Tonya said.

For months, he scoured the job lists looking for any kind of manual labor. But every time he applied for a job, he was rejected because of his felony record.

Daniel Densmore is led away after a court appearance Friday at the Whitfield County Superior Court in Dalton, Ga. Densmore is charged with the fatal shooting of Julious Smith and Krista Babb. Densmore's attorneys withdrew the request for bond Friday.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

Finally, Choo Choo Truck Wash in Ringgold hired him, and he would work long hours overnight. He was well-liked on the job and known for making people laugh, co-workers said.

After Densmore and his girlfriend moved into Smith's rental house in November, he asked her to marry him. Then the best news of all came on New Year's Day when Densmore found out he would be a father for the first time.

Densmore told everyone the good news.

When he finally held his son the first time in his arms in late August, he looked up at his mother saying, "I've finally done something right, Momma."

THE ROBBERY

Barker was tinkering in his Rocky Face auto shop when Smith dropped by the day before he was killed. Smith often drove the short distance from his home, sharing stories and looking at the latest vehicle Barker was working on.

That morning, Barker remembers Densmore stopped by 30 minutes after Smith left. Densmore didn't say what he wanted, but seemed strange, Barker said.

"He was weird, messed up on something," Barker said.

Later, Densmore called in sick for his Friday-night shift. When his employers couldn't find a replacement, he went to work but left early.

The next morning, around 9:30, Densmore went to Smith's house to rob him, police believe.

Smith was known for carrying a large amount of cash in his wallet, friends said, and was very trusting.

Police believe Densmore shot Smith and Krista and set a fire to cover up the evidence.

No one heard gunshots or called 911. Instead, smoke seeping from Smith's windows and doors alerted neighbors that something was wrong.

Soon after 11:30 a.m., firefighters arrived and found Smith's and Krista's shot and burned bodies.

Neighbors told detectives Densmore was at Smith's house earlier that morning.

When they went to question Densmore at his Tunnel Hill home Saturday afternoon, he was getting ready for work. Smith's wallet was later found nearby, police said. Investigators spent the night questioning Densmore, while others collected evidence from Smith's home.

The next day Densmore was charged with murder, robbery and arson.

LOST LIFE

The news of Smith's and Krista's deaths spread fast. The community was horrified that someone Smith had befriended was accused of killing them.

Family and friends mourned them both in private memorial services.

Krista was a ninth-grader at Murray County High School who loved designing and drawing animé. Her family and friends flooded a Facebook page created in her memory with comments.

"You were always so full of life and energy," wrote one friend.

The family has created a scholarship fund for an art student in her memory at Murray County High School.

"I can't understand how that fool could do something like that to Smith and that little girl -- her life hadn't even started," said Paul Davis, one of Smith's neighbors.

At a bond hearing Sept. 23, Densmore bowed his head and looked off in the distance. Smith's family sat in the front row of the courtroom.

But none of Densmore's family could be found in the room. Densmore's mother said she had other appointments and couldn't emotionally handle the accusations. She still doesn't believe he killed them.

"This isn't him," she said. "He's not the monster everyone says he is."

Densmore is being held without bond. In November, he will have a probation revocation hearing.

If convicted, Densmore could face the death penalty, prosecutors said.

"The homicides were the worst I've seen," said Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kermit McManus. "The cruelty and maliciousness -- shooting them like that and then burning their bodies."

Meanwhile, back at his auto shop, Barker gets up every morning and begins sanding down the white truck in one of his bays. He stops often to fill up his cup with coffee from a Thermos or smoke a cigarette.

He thinks about how Smith used to stop by to talk, or run his hands over the 1980 El Camino he had asked Barker to restore.

"I'm gonna miss the hell out of him," Barker said.