Smith’s killer may serve nearly 20 years for 2019 shooting
By DEUCE NIVEN
A guilty plea in the 2019 murder of Mitchell Allen Smith near Tabor City will leave Lakeithy Gene Keller in prison from nearly 16 to almost 20 years.
Keller, 48, entered the guilty plea in Columbus County Superiour Court Monday morning, a news release from District Atorney Jon David said. Keller’s was sentenced to a prison term from 189 to 239 months.
Keller, who was living on Horace Cox Road, Tabor City, at the time of his arrest, was charged in the Sept. 9, 2019 shooting death of Smith, who was then 34 and a Whiteville area resident.
Smith’s body was found in the back seat of his vehicle off of the roadway in the 14000 block of Swamp Fox Hwy East, the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office reported at the time. Witnesses said Smith had an apparent gunshot wound to the chest.
Keller, at the time, lived a little more htan ten miles from where Smith’s body was found.
David, in the news release, said an “exhaustive investigation” by the CCSO resulted in Keller’s arrest.
“Detective Michael Strickland learned that defendant and Smith were together the night of the shooting and drove a route from the Food Lion in Tabor City following Swamp Fox Hwy East,” the news release said. “Shortly after the two left Food Lion, residents found Mitchell Smith’s vehicle wrecked in their front yard and called 911. Minutes later, the homeowner called 911 for a second time and told dispatch that it appeared the occupant in the vehicle was shot and the passenger of the vehicle fled the scene leaving the passenger door open.”
Leads followed by investigators including cell phone records that showed Keller had made a call about a half-mile from the wrecked vehicle.
“When Detectives questioned Defendant about the murder, he admitted to being in the vehicle and changed his story several times about the events that occurred,” the news release said.
“This case was difficult because it was based upon circumstantial evidence,” David said. “However, investigators with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office did a thorough job uncovering what transpired and pieced together the events of that night.
“We are pleased that the Defendant is being held accountable for the murder of Mitchell Allen Smith.”
For more on this story see this week’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.