By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
A month later, Rusty Stuart quoted some of Smith's more memorable passages in his summary to the task force.
Stuart remembered one passage that supposedly said, "SHOOT HER IN THE HEAD, THEN KISS HER ON THE LIPS."
Stuart wrote in his summary, "THIS IS SIGNIFICANT FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, BUT ALSO SUGGESTS PORTMORTEM ACTIVITY WHICH IS VERY DISTURBING TO THE SENCES [sic]."
But Rusty Stuart was mistaken if he figured the Renee Smith interviews and Terry Smith's unspecific written ramblings would turn the investigative tide in his favor.
Task force supervisors asked Stuart to compile his "findings" in a summary — the document that Channel 5 and other news outlets would latch onto a few years later.
In early November 2006, Phoenix police arrested Terry Wayne Smith on assault charges after he punched a man several times for no apparent reason near a bus stop.
The simple assault was increased to a felony after authorities learned that Smith's victim suffered from a neurological disorder that legally made him a "vulnerable adult."
The police officer who wrote up that latest case against Smith was Rusty Stuart.
Court records show that Smith's victim didn't need medical help after the assault and that he wasn't adamant that his attacker go to prison.
But a jury convicted Smith, who was facing up to 15 years because of his extensive criminal past.
Rusty Stuart sat next to the prosecutor during the trial, and Terry Smith concedes he verbally attacked the officer in court immediately after the verdict.
"His whole life turned into getting me for crimes I didn't commit," he says. "I'm a criminal. I admit it. But I ain't no Baseline Killer."
A judge sentenced Smith to six years in prison, a relatively light term. The career con will be eligible for parole next year.
But Smith's incarceration didn't mark the end of this story.
In 2007, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association — the union that represents a majority of the agency's line officers — elected Mark Spencer as its new president.
Relations between PLEA and department brass soured almost overnight. Spencer repeatedly and publicly attacked Public Safety Manager Jack Harris, calling him (among other things) "soft" in dealing with undocumented immigrants.
Rusty Stuart had quit PLEA during a previous president's reign but rejoined soon after Spencer took over. Later, Stuart became a union representative.
By the end of 2008, Stuart's report to the task force had become legend in some police circles and on a Web site dedicated to bashing Phoenix police brass.
Life was about to seriously change for Rusty Stuart.
As 2009 began, Officer Stuart was enmeshed in a bitter divorce case.
His split from wife Michele, a private investigator, had been finalized in September 2008, but numerous issues lingered.
Why that is relevant to this story becomes obvious in light of what happened last May.
Stuart called police in Gilbert (where his ex-wife lives) to complain that Michele had violated a court order by not turning over certain work documents to him.
Gilbert Sergeant Sy Ray looked into it.
The documents included information on a computer thumb drive that Michele supposedly still had in her possession.
Ray's police report, dated May 11, 2009, says Rusty Stuart asked him to secure a search warrant from a judge that would allow Gilbert police to enter Michele's home to retrieve the thumb drive "and other valuable items."
But Sergeant Ray wrote that he had no reason to believe Michele had committed a crime and that his asking a judge for a warrant would be wrong.
Stuart called Ray back and mentioned Channel 5's recent story about Terry Wayne Smith. He told the sergeant "a report mentioned in that newscast is the document that is contained on the thumb drive."
According to Ray, Stuart expressed "why he felt certain management-level staff members are trying to hide information . . . He felt that the Phoenix Police Department had wronged him and another employee, and they were going to have to answer for it, and it's not good for them."
Sergeant Ray concluded, "Some of the statements/accusations made by Mr. Stuart did appear to be completely illogical and/or unrealistic."
Ray noted that Stuart had requested the search of his ex-wife's home almost immediately after he was served notice that she had filed an order of protection against him.
Stuart contested the order, and a hearing was set for May 26. He asked for a postponement, writing to the court, "There is also a very sensitive issue involving the Baseline Killer case in Phoenix. I am the officer who wrote the report now being investigated by the County Attorney's Office. This is a very politically charged issue in my city."
But Commissioner Wes Peterson held the hearing as scheduled and ruled that Rusty Stuart "has committed acts of domestic violence or may commit acts of domestic violence, specifically harassment and failure to comply with a specific [earlier] court order."
A few days later, Sy Ray spoke to Michele Stuart, who said she already had turned over a thumb drive (without any Baseline Killer information on it) and paperwork to Phoenix police.
According to Ray, "Mrs. Stuart made it very clear to me she was afraid Mr. Stuart would kill her if he continued to experience problems at work and with the divorce."