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August 20, 2014

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Convicted killer may get new trial

A Las Vegas woman convicted of killing her mother and cramming the body into a trash barrel may have hopes revived for a new trial because someone checked into a California hospital using the name and Social Security number of the jailed woman's brother, whom authorities had previously presumed to be dead.

Brookey Lee West was sentenced in 2001 to life in prison without parole for killing 64-year-old Christine Smith in 1998.

Deputy Public Defender Scott Coffee said a man using the name and Social Security number of Travis Smith, West's brother, checked into the Santa Clara Medical Center hospital sometime in May. Coffee said the hospital visit was discovered after the billing department at the medical center sent a bill to one of Brookey Lee West's former addresses.

Las Vegas authorities had presumed Smith was dead and possibly slain by West to collect his Social Security income. In explaining her mother's disappearance from her apartment in 1998, West told people her mother went to live with Travis Smith, who Brookey Lee West said was homeless and a drug addict.

Coffee said if Travis Smith is alive he could refute the prosecution's contention that Brookey Lee West was lying about her mother going to live with him.

Coffee said he is currently trying to obtain more information from the medical center, and if need be he would ultimately seek a court order to obtain records of the May visit. Coffee said that while the alleged reappearance of Travis Smith could simply be a case of identity theft, Coffee said it wouldn't make sense for anyone to steal Smith's identity.

"He (Travis Smith) has no credit, has two felonies and a history of mental illness," Coffee said.

Coffee said Brookey West "has always said he (Travis Smith) would show up." Coffee said the last she knew about her brother was that he was living with his girlfriend in the Santa Clara area.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell said he thinks Travis Smith is dead, but even if he is alive it "should make no difference" to the case.

Mitchell said recordings of jail phone calls Brookey West made to a friend in California played during the trial made it clear Brookey West didn't send her mother to live with Travis Smith. On the tape Brookey West says "no one knows where he is and no one has seen him in years," according to Mitchell.

"Obviously she (Brookey West) didn't know where Travis Smith was or didn't want anyone to know," Mitchell said. "I don't care if he does show up alive -- it doesn't help the defense in any way, even though they would like to spin that differently."

Mitchell said the prosecution never stated in its case against Brookey West if Travis Smith was dead or was alive, but instead that she never sent her mother to live with him.

Her mother's badly decomposed remains were found sealed in a barrel in a Las Vegas storage room three years after her disappearance. A plastic bag was tied tightly around her mouth, but a Clark County District Court jury was told the body was so decomposed that the method and cause of death couldn't be determined.

Christine Smith had medical problems and could have died from natural causes. But, prosecutors said, Christine Smith's medical problems did not lead to her death, and, they argued, there was ample evidence to convict West of first-degree murder.

The Clark County Coroner's Office has never issued a cause of death for Christine Smith.

After Smith disappeared, prosecutors said West threw away her belongings and deposited and cashed Smith's Social Security checks. After the body was found, West admitted putting it in the garbage can, though she contended that Smith had died of natural causes, authorities said.

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