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Colin Smith

Other Assault Exonerations where No Crime was Committed
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In December 2013, 42-year-old Colin Smith, a sheriff’s deputy in San Mateo County, California, was arrested on charges of assaulting a man who was dating Smith’s ex-girlfriend.

Smith was accused of breaking into the Redwood City, California home of 31-year-old Zandra Ekholm, his ex-girlfriend, after seeing her earlier in the evening outside a bar with 26-year-old Eric Hartelius, a man whom Ekholm had dated prior to dating Smith.

Ekholm told police that on the night of August 17, 2013, she allowed Smith into her home after he threatened to break down the door. Inside, he assaulted Hartelius in the bathroom, punching and kicking him before leaving. Hartelius suffered numerous injuries including a fractured eye socket. Hartelius told police he was in the bathroom when Smith burst in and attacked him.

Not long after Smith was charged with that assault, he was re-arrested for violating a restraining order and threatening a witness after confronting Ekholm about the pending assault charges.

Smith went to trial on all of the charges in San Mateo County Superior Court in November 2014. Ekholm and Hartelius testified that they had bumped into each other unexpectedly on the night of the incident. Previously, they dated for about a year, but then broke up. After the break-up, Ekholm dated Smith for about three months, but then broke off that relationship as well.

On the night they saw each other unexpectedly, Hartelius said that Ekholm expressed interest in resuming their relationship. While they were talking outside the bar, Smith, who was on duty, drove by and spotted them.

Ekholm said that Smith began angrily texting her (the text messages were presented as evidence), accusing her of taking Hartelius home to have sex. Ekholm texted back saying that Hartelius did come to her residence, but only because he was too intoxicated to drive and that he was sleeping separately.

Smith testified that after he finished his shift, he came to Ekholm’s residence where he was invited in. He said that during a heated discussion, Hartelius punched him first and he defended himself.

On November 6, 2014, the jury convicted Smith of assault, threatening a witness, and violating an order of protection.

After the trial but before sentencing, Ekholm told police for the first time that in August 2014—about three months before Smith’s trial—Hartelius had beaten her.

The prosecution disclosed the evidence to Smith’s defense attorney, who filed a motion for a new trial. In April 2015, Smith was released on bond and in June 2015, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Leland Davis vacated Smith’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

On June 20, 2016, Smith pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating an order of protection and was sentenced to a year in prison but was not imprisoned after getting credit for time served. San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe dismissed the remaining charges, saying that Hartelius and Ekholm had refused to testify in a retrial.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/27/2016
State:California
County:San Mateo
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Misdemeanor
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2014
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:42
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No