“My client did not intend to kill anyone,” Gregory Pagano said after a hearing at which Nydira Smith, 39, was ordered to stand trial for first-degree murder and related crimes. “It’s unfortunate that this young man died.”
Smith, of the 7100 block of Ardleigh Street in East Mount Airy, is accused of fatally stabbing senior Jawine Evans, 21, and stabbing and injuring two other students.
The crimes shook the quiet Chester County campus where Evans was a dean’s list student and an aspiring basketball player who had graduated from South Philadelphia High School.
Pagano said Smith went to the campus of the historically Black university on Feb. 16 in defense of her brother, a student, who was being bullied by fellow students. “She went there to pick up her brother and bring him home because he was being threatened,” the lawyer said, adding that he is still investigating whether the victims were among those who had been making the threats.
During the hearing before Chester County Magisterial District Judge Scott Massey, Smith, who is Muslim, was dressed in a floor-length black burqa that covered her head and face, leaving only her eyes visible. The judge ordered her to remove her face covering in a private room with him and the lawyers as prosecutors sought to establish that she was the woman seen in photographs thrusting a knife into a group of students who were fighting.
In the photographs, the woman prosecutors identified as Smith was wearing a yellow baseball cap and clutching a long kitchen knife.
Two detectives testified that the woman with the knife was Smith and that the bloody clothing she was wearing during the attack was later recovered at her home.
“That doesn’t mean she was wearing it at the time of the stabbing,” Pagano said of the clothing during an interview. He asked Massey to dismiss all charges, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
Assistant District Attorney Alyssa Amoroso told the judge that in addition to recovering the bloodstained clothing, detectives identified Smith as the assailant from photos and video taken at the scene. They also discovered that a knife was missing from a set of six knives in her home, and medical records from Chestnut Hill Hospital showed that she had sought treatment for a laceration to her hand shortly after the incident.
Chester County Detective James Ciliberto testified that a white Infiniti seen on surveillance video entering and exiting the campus belonged to Smith.
As prosecutors made a case for Smith to be tried for murder, Evans’ parents sat in the courtroom and listened to the evidence presented to the judge.
“They look forward to their day in court,” said Michael Van der Veen, an attorney for the family. “Their grieving is immense. It was very difficult for them to be in that courtroom.”
He said Evans’ parents were encouraged that the case against Smith would proceed to trial.
Amoroso and Deputy District Attorney Carlos Barraza declined to comment after the hearing.
Said Pagano: “This is tragic for everyone.”