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Woman guilty of killing Proviano

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio -- Marlene "Slim" Smith could spend the rest of her life in jail after being convicted Tuesday of murder in the 1997 death of Baldwin Borough medical student Anthony Proviano.

The Belmont County jury of five men and seven women deliberated for a day and a half before returning the verdict shortly before 5 p.m.

Smith, who also was convicted of using a weapon to commit the crime, faces 18 years to life in prison.

Proviano's parents, Carmen and Maryann, sobbed on each other's shoulders when the verdict was read. Several jurors wiped tears from their eyes.

Outside the courtroom, Maryann Proviano said she and her husband were "enormously gratified" by the verdict. The Provianos had lobbied for eight years to have the case heard by a jury after their son's death first was ruled a suicide by Dr. Manuel Villaverde, then the Belmont County coroner.

"No one can bring our son back to us, but Marlene Smith needs to be punished for what she did," Maryann Proviano said, sobbing.

From the time her son was found dead eight years ago near a St. Clairsville, Ohio, hotel, "our desire was to have 12 members of a jury decide the fate of the people involved," she said.

Carmen Proviano said he was convinced that his son meant to help Smith, an admitted heroin user and prostitute, and was unprepared for her wrath. "He never anticipated the violence and wound up being murdered by her," he said. "We finally are getting a little bit of peace."

Maryann Proviano praised the investigators from Ohio and Allegheny County who "never gave up" on her son's case. Among them were Baldwin Borough police Chief Christopher Kelly, who never believed Proviano's death to be a suicide, and Bill Fera, a retired Allegheny County detective who volunteered to investigate the case for the Provianos.

Smith, 50, formerly of Washington, Washington County, said nothing as she left the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles at her waist, wearing a black pant suit.

A sentencing hearing will be held March 17 or 31 before Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Solovan.

Defense attorney John Vavra said he would appeal the case, but declined further comment.

Proviano was reported missing by his parents after he failed to show for dinner at their Baldwin home Dec. 24, 1997. He was en route from Cincinnati, where he was in the second year of medical school.

He was found dead Dec. 28 on an abandoned road below a Days Inn hotel where he had checked in Dec. 23. He had a bullet wound from his .25-caliber handgun in his torso. The gun was found 100 feet from his body, along with a spent casing and a live round.

Special Prosecutor Thomas Hampton argued that Smith killed Proviano in a drug-starved rage, after he backed out of a plan to give her drugs and money in exchange for sex.

Vavra argued that investigators ignored evidence that Proviano killed himself. Throughout the trial, Vavra questioned the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, many of whom were convicted felons who said Smith told them about the murder.

Vavra also highlighted the lack of physical evidence tying Smith to the Days Inn, despite an exhaustive search for clues.

Smith's ex-husband, Douglas Ray Main, 44, of Washington, initially was charged as a co-defendant in the case. Charges against Main were dropped last year.

Hampton, who stepped into the case when he was appointed special prosecutor in late 2004, called it "the hardest case I've had" in more than 20 years of practice. The lack of physical evidence, a confusing crime scene, and the difficulties of investigating an eight-year-old death all made it a complicated case to present to a jury. "It's been a long year, but not nearly as long (for me) as the Provianos."

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