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Polk County Sheriff's detectives make arrest in 1996 Bartow murder

7:09 PM, Nov 2, 2012   |    comments
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Bartow, Florida -- Friday morning was an emotional time for the family of Tommy Eugene Smith of Bartow. Smith was 37 years old and a nursing supervisor at Lakeland Regional Medical Center when his body was found during the early evening hours of Oct. 11, 1996.

Tommy's siblings, Ronnie Smith and Bonnie Mclin, attended a news conference and heard the gruesome details of Tommy's murder.

Ronnie said, "I feel like I been waiting a lifetime. I feel like a great weights' been lifted." Bonnie says, "It's a huge relief. It's been a long time coming."

Sheriff Grady Judd announced that Tommy Smith's body was found in an orange grove off Edison and Old Berkley roads, near Auburndale. He'd been shot twice in the head and once in the neck.

Smith was last seen on Oct. 10, leaving his home around 8 p.m. in his Jeep. He was reported missing by his family the next day. While on patrol a Polk County Sheriff's deputy found Smith's Jeep under an I-4 overpass with a flat tire and the rear passenger door open. His body was found later that day in the orange grove.

Five days later, the gun used in the shooting was also found near the area where Smith's abandoned Jeep was recovered.

After 16 years of silence, on Oct. 31, Timothy Medders, a witness called the sheriff's office and told them 35-year-old Timothy Elbert Carey shot and killed Smith when Carey was 19 years old. Medders says he was there when it happened. He was 16 at the time.

Medders explained that he and Carey were in Smith's Jeep that night and Carey told Smith to drive down a dirt road. When all three got out of the Jeep, Carey robbed Smith and then shot him. Sheriff Grady Judd says, "At gunpoint Timothy Carey took Tommy to the front of the vehicle and placed him on his hands and knees. Tommy began to beg for his life. He plead for his life. He stated he didn't want to die."

Judd says Carey then pointed the rifle at Medders and forced him to drag Smith's body into the orange grove. Carey and him then left the scene in Smith's Jeep and abandoned it after it got a flat tire.

On Nov. 1, investigators processed fingerprints found in Smith's Jeep and positively identified them as Carey's.

Carey was arrested and is being charged with First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery. According to an arrest report he works at San Juan Pools in Lakeland. He is being held without bond. Meanwhile Smith's parents went to their graves never knowing the alleged details of their son's murder.  

Tammie Fields, 10 News

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