By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
MUSKOGEE, OK -- A Muskogee man accused of strangling his teenage stepdaughter and stuffing her body in a barrel will stand trial. Prosecutors began presenting evidence against Jerry Raney five months ago. And finally, a judge has decided there's enough evidence for the case to move forward.
The preliminary hearing is where prosecutors present evidence, trying to convince a judge there's enough evidence for a criminal trial. Jerry Raney's hearing was scheduled to last three days, which is standard. It lasted 18 days, spread out over five months.
Sara Smart's family says it has been a long and difficult journey.
Three years have passed since the 19-year-old Sara Smart's body was discovered, stuffed in a 55-gallon barrel. Her stepfather, Jerry Raney, will now stand trial for first degree murder.
"Elated, relieved, kind of in shock. But, I've maintained faith that this would go to trial, and now it is," said Sara's stepmother, Christine Smart-Leader.
Witnesses testified that just days before Sara's disappearance, she spoke out that Raney tried to rape her and threatened to kill her if she went to police. Sara was last seen sitting in Raney's car.
Sara's stepmom says even after all these months, she believed in the evidence.
"I never lost hope, and I guess that's why I'm so at peace right now," said Sara's stepmother, Christine Smart-Leader.
There were 18 court dates, making the preliminary hearing the longest in county history.
"It's been a lot, well, I was just about to say a lot of weeks, it's actually been a lot of months," said Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore.
District Attorney Larry Moore says the case has been a burden on his staff. His court reporter dutifully typed up every sentence of testimony. Five legal assistants have handled all the paperwork.
"As the judge announced in court, he has 2,330 pages in court transcript. So, it has been very lengthy," said Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore.
More than 30 witnesses took the stand. Smart-Leader heard every one of them. She says all she wants is justice for a bright and beautiful teenager, taken too soon.
"I'm just elated because I believe she will get justice, and this is just confirmation that we're moving in the right direction," said Sara's stepmother, Christine Smart-Leader.
Raney will be back in court in early August for his arraignment.
The defense attorney says he's exploring a change in venue motion. But, District Attorney Larry Moore says he'll fight to keep the trial in Muskogee.