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Marlene SMITH






A.K.A.: "Slim"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 24, 1997
Date of arrest: October 22, 2004
Date of birth: 1956
Victim profile: Anthony Proviano, 29
Method of murder: Shooting (.25-caliber pistol)
Location: Belmont County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to 18 1/2 years to life in prison on March 29, 2006. Died in prison on September 6, 2009

State of Ohio, Belmont County
The Court of Appeals - Seventh District


State of Ohio v. Marlene Smith




Killer of Pa. medical student dies in prison

September 23, 2009

MARYSVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A woman convicted of killing Pittsburgh-area medical student in Ohio in 1997 has died of cancer while serving a prison sentence of 18 1/2 years to life.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says 53-year-old Marlene Smith died at the Ohio State University Medical Center on Sept. 6.

Smith and her husband, Douglas Main, were charged in 2004 with murdering Anthony Proviano of Baldwin, Pa., at a motel in Belmont County, Ohio. Proviano had been driving home for Christmas.

Charges against Main were dismissed because he was denied a speedy trial, but Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2006.

Smith had been at the Ohio State Reformatory for Women in Marysville, before she was transferred to the hospital in July.


Smith Sentenced To 18 Years-To-Life

By Renee Cardelli & Jill Del Greco - NEWS9

March 30, 2006

Calling her the "personification of evil," a judge gave Marlene Smith the maximum sentence for the murder of Anthony Proviano.

Smith, of Pittsburgh, was sentenced to 18 years-to-life in jail. She showed no reaction after receiving the sentence, and declined an opportunity to address the court on her own behalf.

Maryanne Proviano, Anthony Proviano's mother, said Smith "laughs, she looks around, she seems uncaring and not remorseful. She doesn't care."

Smith was convicted last month for the 1997 murder of Proviano. A jury found Smith guilty of shooting the University of Cincinnati Medical School student behind the St. Clairsville Holiday Inn while he was on his way home for Christmas.

Smith's attorney said he will appeal on his client's behalf.

Proviano's family members said they are pleased with the sentence, but are still seeking more information.

Carmen Proviano, Anthony Proviano's father, said he still wants Smith to reveal who else may have been involved in his son's murder.


Smith Found Guilty Of Murder

Jury Says Smith Murdered Anthony Proviano

By Jill Del Greco - NEWS9

February 21, 2006

After more than 10 hours of deliberations over two days, a jury has found Marlene Smith guilty of murdering Anthony Proviano.

Smith showed no emotion as the court read the verdict in the Belmont County Courthouse at 4:45 Tuesday afternoon. Proviano's parents broke down in tears and immediately embraced after hearing the news.

The guilty verdict comes after five days of testimony. The jury also found Smith guilty of a firearms specification.

Proviano was a University of Cincinnati medical school student when he was found shot to death behind the Days Inn in St. Clairsville in December 1997. His death was originally ruled a suicide, but authorities later deemed it homicide.

Maryanne and Carmen Proviano told NEWS9 that the guilty verdict brings them closer to closure.

"We are ecstatic," said Carmen Proviano. "We are finally getting a little bit of peace, but we'll never be completely happy until we know all the facts."

"No one can bring our son back to us," added Maryanne Proviano. "Marlene Smith needs to be punished for what she did to him."

None of the jurors would comment on what led them to their conclusion that Smith is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no physical evidence linking Smith to the murder scene, but the prosecution brought numerous witnesses to the stand who said Smith admitted to involvement in the crime.

Special prosecutor Thomas Hampton said he is not surprised by the verdict, but he is satisfied.

"It's been a long year, not nearly as long as it was for the Provianos, but justice was done," Hampton said.

The prosecution said Proviano and Smith, who was allegedly a prostitute, had an agreement for sex and drugs before he was shot to death. However, Proviano's parents said they do not believe their son was involved in that behavior, and they said they think Proviano was trying to help Smith by getting her a hotel room that night.

Marlene Smith had no comment when she left the courtroom, but defense attorney John Vavra said he plans to appeal the guilty verdict.

Smith's ex-husband and former co-defendant, Doug Main, testified during last week's trial. During Main's testimony, he said he had nothing to do with Proviano's death. Charges against Doug Main were dropped last year, but prosecutors would not comment Tuesday on whether they would refile those charges now that Smith's trial is complete.

The next step in the case is sentencing. Prosecutors said Smith is facing 15 years to life in prison.


A Not-Quite Cold Case

The investigation into the death of Anthony Proviano was fubar almost from the very beginning, and for almost a decade, it looked like justice would never come for the 29-year-old University of Cincinnati Medical Student who was slain while traveling home to spend Christmas with his family.

Proviano’s body was found on a rural road in St. Clairsville, Ohio, behind the hotel where he had stopped en route to Baldwin, Pennsylvania, where he was planning to celebrate the holidays on December 28, 1997. His family had reported him missing Christmas Day after he failed to arrive for his family’s traditional Christmas Eve gathering.

Baldwin Police used a Pittsburgh radio station helicopter to backtrack the route Proviano had been expected to take on his trek home and found his red Camaro in the parking lot of a hotel about an hour west of Pittsburgh. They determined that he had checked into room 125 of that hotel and paid for a single night, but the housekeeping staff said it didn’t appear that he had slept in the bed.

The Camaro was packed with Christmas gifts.

A few hours after they found the car, police found Proviano’s body laying in heavy brush about a quarter of a mile from the hotel down an abandoned township road.

He died of a single gunshot wound of the chest. A .25-caliber pistol registered to Proviano loaded with two rounds found about 100 feet from his body. His hat, winter coat, right shoe and a pair of leather gloves, plus a spent bullet casing and one unfired round of ammunition, were found closer to his body. His wallet, containing money and credit cards, was still in his back pocket.

The Belmont County Coroner, Dr. Manuel Villaverde, was called to the scene and noted that the sweater Proviano was wearing did not have a bullet hole. The t-shirt beneath was powder-burned and bloodstained.

A single set of footprints led to the location of Proviano’s body.

Villaverde ruled Proviano’s death to be a suicide and refused to order that an autopsy be performed. His decision stunned police and Proviano’s family, and set the tone for how the case would progress.

Chief Deputy Olen F. Martin of the Belmont County sheriff’s office shared his disgust with the media following the strange case. He told said he asked the coroner four times to conduct an autopsy and was refused each time.

“‘I’m flabbergasted. In any case where death is involved and it’s questionable, and this is clearly questionable from a number of aspects, why wouldn’t an autopsy be done?” he said. “In 11 years as a police officer I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

The ruling of suicide as the manner of death and gunshot wound as the cause did not prevent authorities from continuing to investigate the circumstances of Proviano’s death, but it certainly made the work of police more difficult and cast the Belmont County authorities in an extremely negative — and unfair — light.

Under Ohio law the coroner does not determine whether a crime has occurred — that authority rests with the prosecutor — but the coroner’s ruling would certainly make a defense attorney’s job easier should anyone ever be arrested. In addition, Villaverde’s ruling meant that the first chore of investigators would be to prove him wrong and then begin building a case against any suspects. Finally, the police would also have justify the time and expense being put into an essentially closed case.

The Proviano family refused to accept Villaverde’s decision and hired a private pathologist to conduct the autopsy. Shortly after they did this, the Belmont County Commissioners contacted the family and told them that the county would pay all expenses for the autopsy.

Villaverde stuck by his decision.

“If an autopsy would have helped determine if it was a difference between a murder and suicide, I would have done it,” he said. “I don’t like telling a family that their relative committed suicide, but I didn’t have a choice in this particular case.”

The private autopsy revealed no traces of gun powder residue on Proviano’s hands, and did show that he had consumed about an ounce-and-a-half of alcohol. No determination was made about whether he died by his own hand or by that of another person.

In defense of Villaverde, the Franklin County (Ohio) Coroner explained to the media that autopsies do not always provide the necessary answers.

“Coroners in Ohio can select to do an autopsy or not, said Dr. William R. Adrion. “People treat an autopsy like it’s going to be a mystery-solving thing. It doesn’t always turn out that way.”

It would take a year of pressure from the Proviano family, police and politicians from two states to push Villaverde into changing his ruling from suicide to “undetermined.”

He didn’t do it willingly, however.

“I still think it’s suicide,” he told the Post-Gazette of Pittsburgh in November 1998, calling the pressure from two Congressmen and the local prosecutor “cockamamie.”

Meanwhile, investigators in Belmont County had left the autopsy issue far behind and were pursuing the case as a murder investigation. They had already traveled to Germany and Mexico to track down leads and spent hundreds of hours investigating the case in other ways.

The break that would eventually crack the case came in March 1999 when an inmate in a Pennsylvania jail contacted his local prosecutor with information.

That tip from Richard Marz, a heroin dealer serving a 1 to 3 year sentence, led investigators to Douglas Main and Marlene “Slim” Smith. Main and Smith were married at the time and had been part of the heroin ring with Marz and Charles Dailey Jr.

Marz, who ended up in jail because Main and Smith had agreed to cooperate with authorities as they cracked Dailey’s drug gang, said the couple had been “pulling this sex-robbery shit for years,” in his letter to the prosecutor.

He said Main told him that Smith met Proviano in a St. Clairsville restaurant, lured him back to the hotel with the promise of sex and had robbed and killed him.

“Main said he shot killed a guy in Belmont County, Ohio St. Clairsville area with the guy’s own gun. The guy had x-mas gifts in his car. Deserted area by a motel, and no money or gifts were taken,” Marz’s letter read.

Dailey - who was also taken down by Main and Smith’s cooperation - provided additional support for Marz’s allegations.

He told investigators that he and Main were in St. Clairsville on a shoplifting trip and Main was concerned about getting arrested. Main told Dailey that he had tried to rob a man in St. Clairsville once and ended up shooting him with his own gun.

“Me and Slim was gonna rob this guy and I shot him with his own gun,” Dailey quoted Main as saying.

Dailey went on to say that Main told him that “he hit the guy so hard he knocked him out of his shoes.”

However, all of those details: that the gun used to kill Proviano was his own, that he was found without one shoe, and that his car filled with presents was untouched had all previously been made public through the media.

In August 2001, Belmont County Coroner Gene Kennedy, who ran against Villaverde based on his conduct in the Proviano case and who trounced the coroner in the November 2000 election by a 2-1 margin, again altered Proviano’s death certificate - this time ruling that the manner of death was homicide.

While that boosted the spirits of the Proviano family, merely changing the words on a certificate did not advance the case much. The fact remained that the only evidence in the case came from a pair of convicted drug dealers with grudges against the chief suspects.

In December 2002, a Belmont County grand jury heard two days of testimony and evidence in the case and declined to hand up indictments.

Frustration abounded and finger pointing began. In 2004, the police chief in Baldwin, Chris Kelly, told the Post-Gazette that prosecutors in Ohio were doing absolutely nothing to bring the matter to closure. He complained that the prosecutors were ignoring leads that he and a retired homicide investigator had presented. Kelly said he thought there was enough evidence to bring charges.

“With all due respect to Chief Kelly, he has not tried a case in a courtroom,” deputy prosecutor Dan Fry responded. “I have for 25 years.”

The Baldwin police uncovered a videotape of Slim Smith in a Washington, Pennsylvania pawn shop discussing Proviano’s murder. In the tape, she admits playing a role in the killing.

“Me and Doug robbed a guy,” she said. “Doug shot him and left him for dead. We were so scared we left all the Christmas presents in the car.”

Douglas Main, Slim Smith’s then-husband took a lie-detector test and failed it, Kelly told the media.

Fry responded that his office did take all of the evidence seriously, but said the case wasn’t as open-and-shut as Kelly liked to believe.

The witnesses all had credibility problems, he said. Not to mention that there was absolutely no forensic evidence linking Main and Smith to Proviano’s killing.

Finally, in late 2004, Belmont County authorities took the case back to the grand jury. This time, they were more successful and received indictments against Main and Smith.

Several details helped bring the indictments. In August 2004, Baldwin police found earmuffs linked to Main and Smith in the woods near the murder scene. That, along with a key chain that included a key to the room Proviano had rented so many years ago in St. Clairsville, was turned over to authorities and linked to the couple.

Investigators also found the registration Proviano received from the hotel in a car once owned by Main and Smith.

But justice was still to be some time off for the Proviano family.

In May 2005, shortly before the trial was to begin, Douglas Main was ordered released on bond after a special prosecutor appointed in the case asked for additional time to investigate new developments. Six months later, the prosecutor, citing the state’s speedy trial requirements, dropped the charges against Main. They can be reinstated at a later date.

“Based in part upon things we have learned quite recently, it’s best for the state, it’s best for the interests of justice and best for the family of the victim that we try Marlene Smith first,” prosecutor Thomas Hampton said in November 2005.

Marlene “Slim” Smith went to trial in February 2006.

During his opening statement, Hampton said Proviano and Smith had rented the hotel room for the purpose of taking drugs and having sex.

“The things that have slipped out over the years, these things indicate that Marlene Smith was responsible for the death of Anthony Proviano,” Hampton told jurors.

Charles Dailey Jr., the head of the heroin ring that Smith once worked for, testified that Smith took a gold bracelet from Proviano’s car and traded it to him for heroin.

He also explained that the videotape of her confession came about after she came to his pawn shop and threatened one of his employees.

“You don’t want Doug and me to do what we did to Proviano,” he recalled that she said.

Richard Mraz, whose letter had helped unravel the case, also testified that Smith was worried about forensic evidence after the murder.

“What if they fingerprint that whisky bottle, Doug?” he said she asked over and over one day shortly after the killing.

The key witness against Smith, however, was Leslie Long. She was Smith’s cellmate in Belmont County, where she was awaiting trial on attempted murder charges. She took the stand against Smith and said her bunkie had referred to Proviano as “a trick that had gone bad.”

Long was the only witness who could provide any details about how Proviano had been killed.

According to Long, Smith told her that she had hooked up with Proviano and that they had traveled from “somewhere in Pennsylvania” to Pittsburgh to St. Clairsville in search of drugs.

After Proviano failed to procure drugs for her and they began quibbling about the price of sex, Smith hit him three times with his own handgun and then shot him.

In the end, it was Smith’s own words that led the jury to convict her. She made a telephone call to a Baldwin County detective and during the course of that phone call began arguing with a heroin dealer she was living with at the time.

Unbeknownst to her, the detective was not in and her voicemail had picked up.

“I’m a murderer,” Smith shouted at the heroin dealer. “You heard that? I’m a murderer.”

After a day and a half of deliberations, a Belmont County jury agreed with her and returned a guilty verdict.


A Life Interrupted: The mystery of Anthony Proviano's death

By Steve Levin - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 1, 2007

On Dec. 28, 1997, the body of 29-year-old medical student Anthony Proviano was found in eastern Ohio, several days after he failed to arrive at his family's annual Christmas celebration in Baldwin Borough.

Anthony's death initially was ruled a suicide, and his parents and Belmont County, Ohio, investigators struggled for nearly a decade to discover what really happened.

In 12 consecutive installments, Post-Gazette reporter Steve Levin unravels the intricacies of a case that is every parent's nightmare and every investigator's struggle.

Levin, who has covered the story since Christmas Day 1997, utilized scores of interviews plus court testimony, police records, correspondence and his own reporting to develop a modern-day whodunit.

Chapter One / The First Days

A Life Interrupted: A son fails to arrive home

Sgt. Robert A. Artman was perplexed.

On Christmas Day 1997 he expected an uncomplicated shift at the Baldwin Borough Police department. It had been anything but.

Just before 10 a.m., Maryann and Carmen Proviano arrived, crying and shaking, and visibly exhausted. They had neither eaten nor slept for nearly two days.

"What are you doing to find our son?" they asked. He had no idea what they were talking about.

Their 29-year-old son, Anthony, a second-year medical student in Cincinnati, had been due home two days earlier for the family's decades-old traditional holiday celebration of a meatless Christmas eve -- pasta aglio and eggnog, cookies and music.

There'd been no word from him and no answer at his Cincinnati apartment.

Artman sent them home to rest. Then he and Detective Patrick J. Coyne spent several hours working the phones. It took hours to get Cincinnati police to check Anthony's apartment. While the door to his apartment was locked, there had been a burglary at one of the building's other apartments.

Artman then checked Cincinnati phone records on the chance any of Anthony's recent phone calls could provide information. They didn't.

By the time Carmen and Maryann returned to the station late that afternoon, they were threatening to drive the six hours to Cincinnati to search for their son.

"You can't go to Cincinnati," Artman told them. "You're in no condition."

But Artman wanted to help somehow. "You just knew that these people were experiencing the worst pain a human being can feel," he said. "In their hearts I think they knew something was wrong. Seriously wrong."

He called Chief Chris Kelly, at home, and explained the situation. Kelly asked officer Matthew Kearns to drive the Provianos to Cincinnati the next day. Kelly figured the Provianos not only would be safer if accompanied by an officer, but it might also convince Cincinnati cops to be more cooperative.

That night, Baldwin Borough police listed Anthony as a missing person, and sent a regional message to law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Police also searched for the registration for Anthony's red Z28 Camaro; his parents didn't know the license plate number.

During the next day's six-hour drive, Kearns tried to buoy the Provianos' spirits by saying there was a likely explanation.

His words had little effect.

"Any conversation was -- I don't know how to describe it," Kearns said. "We talked about different things but it was obvious their minds were somewhere else."

At their son's apartment, located across the street from the entrance to the Cincinnati Zoo, nothing seemed amiss. There were eight or nine phone messages -- mostly from family members -- dishes in the sink and unpacked boxes in the middle of the floor.

Kearns did find a .45-caliber pistol with a loaded clip. The discovery surprised Maryann.

That evening, a Cincinnati TV station, alerted to the story by local police, arrived to interview the Provianos.

In Pittsburgh, Kelly contacted local media outlets about the situation, so by the 11 o'clock news, the disappearance of Anthony Proviano was being broadcast throughout Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

Kearns stayed at a hotel that night while the Provianos slept in their son's apartment. They straightened up, including washing the dishes, rearranging furniture and packing some of Anthony's personal items to take back with them to Pittsburgh.

Saturday dawned gray and cold. Kearns called his department; Anthony had not showed up.

Back at the apartment, Maryann and Carmen were being interviewed by two newspapers and two TV stations.

By the time the interviews were finished, it was nearly 2 p.m., and time for Kearns and the Provianos to return to Pittsburgh.

The discussion during the entire return trip centered around the idea that Anthony must have been a victim of foul play.

"I know he's dead," Carmen said more than once. "I just want his body back."

Kearns dropped the Provianos off at their home after 8 p.m.

"It was a long ride back," he said.


Chapter Two / The Search

A Life Interrupted: A stroke of luck, finding the car

The Jet Ranger 2 helicopter took off from Allegheny County Airport at 10:15 Sunday morning, Dec. 28, 1997. Inside were the pilot and Baldwin Borough police officers Robert Artman and Matthew Kearns.

Their goal: find the red Z28 Camaro belonging to Anthony Proviano, and, hopefully, the missing 29-year-old medical student, too.

The department had borrowed a helicopter from KDKA-TV after three days of unsuccessfully trying to locate him. The officers flew above the route Anthony likely would have driven from school in Cincinnati to his parents' home in Baldwin Borough.

Sgt. Artman was not hopeful.

"I thought it was a one-in-a-million chance that we'd find that car," he said. "When you're in the air, every car has the same shape."

With enough fuel for only two hours, the helicopter flew low at 500 feet, swooping over malls and motels, parking lots and truck stops along Interstates 79, 70, 470 and 71.

Just after 11, the trio were about to return to Pittsburgh when the pilot decided to check one last area off Interstate 70: the L-shaped parking lot of a Days Inn hotel near St. Clairsville.

As they dipped toward the ground, the pilot pointed to a red car.

The helicopter dropped to 250 feet, and circled the parking lot several times. The car had Ohio plates, but the helicopter's fogged windows and heavy vibration made it hard for the officers to make out the plate through their binoculars.

The first letter, "S," matched the plate on Anthony's car. Officer Kearns strained to see with the binoculars. The final digit was "3," also a match. They couldn't read anything else.

The helicopter landed on a small flat patch of land 15 feet below the parking lot. The officers jumped out and, hunched over to avoid the blades, scrambled on all fours up to the parking lot and toward the car.

About three dozen hotel guests were on their balconies in the blustery cold, gawking.

"Are you guys OK?" one called to the officers.

The two were at the car before they could read the full plate: SUF-703.

Both of them swore.

It was Anthony's car.

About the same time -- 11:05 a.m. -- the phone rang at Olen Martin's home in nearby St. Clairsville. Still asleep after working late the night before, the chief deputy for the Belmont County Sheriff's Department mumbled into the receiver.

It was the department dispatcher; a helicopter had landed near the parking lot of the Days Inn.

Asked if the highway patrol had been called, since it investigates air crashes, the dispatcher answered no. "We found the car from the carjacking."

Deputy Martin's mind raced as he dressed. He recalled a Christmas Day teletype about a University of Cincinnati student's car, one that suggested he might be a victim of a carjacking. But he saw hundreds of teletypes every week and hadn't focused on it.

Anxious about what he might find at the Days Inn, he almost forgot to call his wife; today was his day with the separated couple's 2-year-old daughter.

By the time he pulled into the lot, Anthony's car had been unlocked, his room -- No. 125 -- searched and the hotel grounds stampeded by media.

The burly chief deputy, gruff and short-tempered, ordered his deputies to secure the scene. He found out from the hotel that Anthony had checked in at 6 p.m. on Dec. 23.

Deputies broadened their search out from the hotel. At a bend in the road leading to the hotel's driveway, Deputy Chip Williams saw a single set of footprints in the mud along the left side of a mound of dirt on an abandoned township road.

He eased his way down the frozen rutted dirt road about 500 feet and stopped. He called his boss on his radio.

"We found the body," was all he said.


Chapter Three / The Scene

A Life Interrupted: The body is found, the questions begin

Baldwin Borough Police Sgt. Robert A. Artman was one of the first to see the body of Anthony Proviano.

Walking 500 feet down the abandoned township road toward the knot of police officers standing in a semicircle around the body, the sergeant's mind flashed to an event years earlier.

"I had a 16-year-old girl run over by a tractor trailer," said the U.S. Army veteran and 16-year employee of the Baldwin Borough police department. "She went through every wheel. I grabbed her arm to see if she had a pulse and she gave one last breath.

"That's the thing about this job; there's some things you'll never forget."

He knew he'd never forget his first sight of Anthony, either.

Lividity -- the body's blood draining to the lowest part of the body -- had set in, and his face and hands were covered with debris.

His arms were tucked beneath him against his chest and his legs crossed, right over left. Several feet away were his right shoe, a flashlight and a knit hat.

The second-year medical student's blue, long-sleeve shirt was untucked and the front of his jeans dirtied. His red jacket was twisted into a ball about 3 feet away. A .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol loaded with two rounds of ammunition was about 100 feet distant from the body, along with one spent bullet casing, one unfired bullet and a pair of leather gloves laid neatly atop one another.

Sgt. Artman was still looking around the area when Chief Deputy Olen Martin of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office arrived. Bull necked and barrel chested, with a thick black mustache and brooding eyes, he had been sound asleep at his home an hour earlier after working a late shift. He hated being awakened by the phone, so he was in a bad mood before reaching the site. Now, seeing the area overrun with cops from four jurisdictions trampling on potential evidence and muddying up a crime scene already damp from days of cold drizzle, his temper boiled over.

He barked an order into his portable radio for the county coroner and then yelled for everyone except Belmont County sheriff's deputies and a state Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation agent to leave the crime scene.

As the other law enforcement officials trudged back up to the main road, he began photographing the scene. Normally, he would wait for the county coroner before "working" the body. Today, though, was "colder than a witch's wazoo," and he didn't want to waste time waiting for the coroner, Dr. Manuel Villaverde, to arrive.

Anthony's forearms had dug a 1-inch depression in the ground, either from crawling or writhing, like a snow angel. He turned the body over and spotted a single bullet wound in the upper left chest. There were abrasions on his face; in particular, he took note of a couple of horizontal cuts on the right side of his forehead. Anthony's wallet, with $47 inside, was in the front right pants pocket; his car keys were in the left pocket.

While he scoured the area and deputies measured the location of the body from the road and various items from the body, the BCI&I agent planted small flags at potential pieces of evidence. A deputy began cataloging items. The chief deputy sent others to secure Anthony's car, search the hotel and talk to the front desk clerk.

At 1:20, Dr. Villaverde arrived. A native of Quezon, Philippines, he survived the Japanese occupation during World War II to later graduate from the University of Santo Thomas medical school in Manila. He moved to Belmont County in 1975 and was elected to the $22,000-a-year county coroner position in 1992.

Obviously irked that the chief deputy had moved Anthony's body, the doctor spent just 15 minutes at the scene. Anthony's body was placed in a white body bag, placed on a gurney and awkwardly wheeled up to a waiting car from Grissell's Funeral Home in nearby Bellaire.

When the chief deputy reached the funeral home -- Belmont County does not have an actual coroner's office -- Dr. Villaverde had already begun his examination.

Using an old scalpel, he cut two or three times into Anthony's back before pulling out a hollow-point .25-caliber bullet.

"Maybe we save the county some money," he grinned.

A few minutes later, the coroner made his decision on the cause of death: suicide. There would be no autopsy.

Four separate times at the funeral home, Deputy Martin asked the doctor to change his ruling and order an autopsy: the gun was too far away for a suicide, the scene was suspicious, too many things didn't add up.

He refused.

"Listen," Deputy Martin said, his neck muscles bulging. "That ruling casts an umbrella of suspicion over the investigation. We're going to end up on 'Geraldo.' "

"Mahtahn," Dr. Villaverde said in his accented voice. "I don't care."


Chapter Four / The Home Front

A Life Interrupted: At home, taking stock, preparing to grieve

Carmen and Maryann Proviano knew from the start something was wrong. It was completely out of character for their only son, Anthony, not to be home for Christmas, not to call, not to answer the tearful pleading messages left on his Cincinnati phone by his sisters.

The trip to their son's Cincinnati apartment on Dec. 26 with a Baldwin Borough cop had only increased their dread.

The apartment was messy, but that wasn't unusual for a 29-year-old single medical school student. His school books were open to material that he wouldn't be tested on until February. His laundry bag was by the back door -- a sure sign to them that he planned to return to school.

The awful discovery of their son's body on Dec. 28 near a hotel in St. Clairsville, Ohio, had been made worse by the pronouncement of the Belmont County coroner that not only had Anthony shot himself, but "probably after he got drunk enough he probably had the courage to do the job."

To the Provianos, it just didn't add up. Not just that Anthony had paid for a room for one night at the St. Clairsville Days Inn on Dec. 23 when he was only 70 minutes from home. He didn't sleep in the bed or even use the bathroom. The nearly empty liter bottle of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and box of .25-caliber shells found among his belongings in the room? That wasn't any proof of suicide.

The trunk of his 1995 Camaro, found in the hotel parking lot, contained wrapped Christmas gifts addressed to them. Clearly, the Provianos reasoned, their son was headed home.

Now he was coming home dead.

He was their little boy, the boy they named for St. Anthony, the one who performed magic tricks and loved reading, who joked with his sisters, went hunting and scuba diving, and helped pay his way through college at Penn State-Behrend and the main campus, where he made dean's list, the young man with the big smile who always volunteered, who always helped.

Full of life, is how they described him. But sometimes he made bad decisions; he could be naive, too trusting. He didn't have street smarts, his father said.

Although an engineering major, he decided his junior year on medical school. "I want a job I can be successful at and be fulfilled in," he said, pointing to his father's three-decade career as a vocational teacher and coach in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Since Anthony didn't have the money to pay for medical school, he worked alternate semesters at General Motors' Delphi Packard Electric Systems plant in Warren, Ohio. After graduation, he continued working at the plant, but also attended night classes at nearby Youngstown State University to earn necessary credits for medical school.

He applied to several schools but chose the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and had done well, ranking 21st of 150. At first he wanted to be a pediatrician but that recently had morphed into becoming a trauma doctor.

Those details were memories now, as the Proviano family, gathered in the small living room of their home on Tush Drive, struggled to make sense of the impossible.

Maryann had thought this would be the best Christmas. For the first time she could remember, all her cooking and preparations had been completed by Dec. 23. The house was spotless. Anthony's 4-month-old niece, Guiliana, was home for the first time, along with his two sisters and brother-in-law. They were eager to hear about his medical school life.

Without Anthony, though, the heavily decorated tree was just a reminder of his absence. The living room was filled with TV crews and reporters. The phone rang constantly. Police from both the borough and Belmont County had visited. Maryann and Carmen couldn't stop crying. No one had slept for days.

And somehow the days passed. Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's office conducted a private autopsy on Anthony. Funeral arrangements were made. A letter arrived unexpectedly from the Belmont County commissioners apologizing "on behalf of the people of Belmont County for the coroner's actions" in ruling that Anthony's death was a suicide. The commissioners enclosed a check for $1,835.50 to pay for Dr. Wecht's autopsy. The good intentions only made the family's pain worse.

They passed New Year's Eve with the knowledge that for them, the first day of 1998 would be spent at the visitation for Anthony at the John F. Slater Funeral Home.


Chapter Five / A New Year

A Life Interrupted: The leads pour in

Ruffo Proviano was mad. His nephew, Anthony, was laid out for viewing in the funeral home on New Year's Day and two men he didn't recognize were accosting his brother's friends and relatives.

He made his way over to the shorter of the two, interrupting him in mid-conversation.

"What do you guys want?" Ruffo asked loudly.

Olen Martin turned, unperturbed. Confrontations came with the job. As the lead investigator into what he believed was the murder of Anthony Proviano, he not only had permission from Anthony's parents to be at the John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood, but basic police procedure in any unsolved case meant working the funeral home, finding people who knew the deceased, checking their reactions to the casket, recording license plates, asking questions.

Making people uneasy was the least of his problems.

"Olen Martin, Belmont County Ohio Sheriff's Office," he said simply, sticking out his hand.

Deputy Bart Giesey quickly explained to Ruffo that they were investigating his nephew's death.

Anthony had died in St. Clairsville, Ohio, and in the five days since his body was discovered, scores of leads had flooded the Belmont County Sheriff's Office, along with incessant news media calls. The chief deputy didn't care for the media anyway, and to date, in this case, they'd done nothing but slow his investigation down by pestering him for interviews. He had already decided that if any showed up at the funeral home that day, he would "go off" on them.

He was disturbed enough by what he already knew about the case. The coroner had ruled the death a suicide, which Deputy Martin had angrily disputed. When police checked Anthony's car, it had already been wiped clean; there was not a single fingerprint in the car, or on the flashlight found near his body. Neither was there a hotel room key, although housekeeping reported the room had been locked. And Anthony's gun, the gun that fired the fatal shot into his upper left chest, was found 100 feet from his body.

Between the afternoon and evening visitation, he let Maryann and Carmen Proviano treat him and Deputy Giesey to lunch at their Baldwin Borough home. He kept to himself the calls he'd received intimating that Anthony was gay and involved in drugs. The St. Clairsville Days Inn and another nearby hotel were well known to law enforcement as locations for drug activity.

At the house, he got another surprise: Anthony's parents gave the investigator a Texas hotel receipt they'd found in their son's laundry when he'd last been home in September.

Within a few days, Deputy Martin learned that Anthony had made a five-day trip to El Paso in August 1997, stayed in a hotel known as a drug haven and driven 880 miles in a rental car, taking it into Mexico even though he hadn't signed the rental waiver required to do so. Within days of returning to Cincinnati after that trip, he paid off a nearly $5,000 credit card bill.

As intriguing as that information was, there also was the drudgery of cross-checking names, following up leads and interviewing everyone who might have come in contact with Anthony in the days surrounding his death.

He and Deputy Giesey compared the Days Inn guest list with the funeral home's sign-in book. They spent days talking to people in Belmont County's gay community to check on rumors. Nothing came from either endeavor. His pot use? Recreational only. They scoured Anthony's apartment again and found a photo of him and two men at an outdoor concert that somehow had been overlooked before.

On a tip they visited the Bella Via restaurant in Elm Grove, W.Va. They showed Anthony's photo around and three waitresses said they'd seen him at the restaurant.

"That's him," one said, in a shaky voice. "He was here."

She also said he was accompanied by a man.

Before Deputy Martin brought a police artist in a few days later to sketch a composite, he realized the waitresses were confused on their dates, and that Anthony was dead on the day the waitresses claimed to have seen him. But he went ahead with the composite and released it to the media on Jan. 12, figuring "what could it hurt?"

A few days later he was in Chicago, interviewing a past girlfriend of Anthony's, someone he'd known from work at the GM plant in Warren, Ohio. She called him "the greatest guy I ever dated."

From Chicago, he drove to Cincinnati where a memorial service for Anthony was being scheduled for Jan. 17 at the medical school. He was joined by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation Special Agent Karen Rebori. The pair immediately butted heads with the school's dean, who made them wait for more than an hour to speak to him.

When he finally met with them, he said he couldn't help.

"Privacy issues are involved," he said.

"It's not like someone stole a Barbie [doll]," Agent Rebori shot back. "We're looking at someone's death."


Chapter Six / The Autopsy

A Life Interrupted: 'It's not a natural death'

Olen Martin, chief deputy of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office, stood impassively at the back of the room with Deputy Bart Giesey, hands clasped behind his back, the bulge of his gun clearly visible at his waist. In front of him, at the podium, was Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, preparing to explain at a news conference the results of his office's private autopsy on Anthony Proviano.

The well-known coroner, who had conducted 13,000 autopsies himself and reviewed or supervised 30,000 others during his long career, had been hired by Anthony's parents after the Belmont County coroner refused to order one.

Deputy Martin already knew the results; he and Dr. Wecht had spoken a day earlier and the coroner had told him he could not determine whether Anthony's late December death on an abandoned township road in Belmont County was a suicide or murder. Now, as Martin watched the media jockey for position in the room, he let his mind wander over the past few days.

If there had been themes at the memorial service for Anthony three days earlier on Jan. 17 at the University of Cincinnati Medical College, they had been that the 29-year-old second-year student was "too trusting" and that he never would have committed suicide.

Students had set up "Tony's Corner" on a bulletin board near a classroom and filled it with clippings about Anthony's death from newspapers and the Internet, along with black-and-white photos of him. A memorial book also had been started. Of all the entries, only one, and unsigned at that, called Anthony "troubled," intimating that by committing suicide he had made the one independent decision left to him. The medical school, however, had not notified Deputy Martin of the book's existence; he had found out from Anthony's parents, Carmen and Maryann.

After the service, he had made a point of confronting the medical school dean who had stonewalled him several days earlier. It was raining, and he parked so the dean, who was standing outside his car, couldn't pull out.

"You're very much expected to cooperate with the investigation," the deputy shouted through the passenger side window.

"We'll do everything we can," the dean said. "There were just some very personal things in that book. We had some privacy issues. We actually considered taking it out and tearing it up."

"There's no privacy issues," the investigator replied, putting his car in drive. "The kid is dead."

His attention was snapped back to the present by Dr. Wecht's loud clearing of his throat.

"Obviously," the doctor was saying, "it can be a homicide. It can be a suicide. It's not a natural death. More of the known facts and physical evidence in terms of our experience ... leans toward the involvement of another person."

Anthony's blood alcohol content was between .05 and .07, the equivalent of a single drink, so he wasn't drunk. The autopsy found no gunpowder on Anthony's hands, although it could have been washed away by rain. He was not suffering from a terminal disease. He was not robbed, beaten or sexually assaulted.

Deputy Martin was surprised.

Not beaten? He thought there was a very good chance Anthony had been beaten.

Dr. Wecht said he had examined police reports about the death, and when combined with the autopsy reports, "I believe it's not wild to conjecture that someone else was involved here."

However, although Anthony had no apparent school, financial or emotional problems in his life, Dr. Wecht concluded that "sometimes people commit suicide for reasons that other people would consider most trivial."

When the news conference ended, Deputy Martin met the Provianos at an Eat'n Park on Brownsville Road. They had told the media they would be out of town to avoid interviews.

"For the first time, there was a little bit of relief; they were a little more at ease," he said. "My impression was that Wecht's ruling that the [cause of death] was undetermined was the reason.

"Anything other than suicide was acceptable."


Chapter Seven / Dashed Dreams, Buoyed Hopes

A Life Interrupted: Inquiry hits blind alleys

Carmen Proviano was trying as hard as he could.

He didn't miss a day of industrial arts classes at Peabody High School, or a single practice with the boys' volleyball and basketball team.

Born in East Liberty and raised in Brookline, he was the first in his family to graduate college. Now, as the 1998 school year was closing, his career was approaching three decades in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Former students would stop him at restaurants, in the mall. "Hey, Mr. P!" the boys called, or "Hey, Coach Pro."

But since his only son, Anthony, had been found dead in Belmont County, Ohio, in late December, life had slowly been draining from Carmen.

"Anthony was on my mind all day," he said. "I could still teach. I still wanted to teach. I still had a good time with the kids. But all day long when I wasn't giving a lecture or a demonstration, he was on my mind."

He and his wife Maryann were trying to keep the investigation into their son's death galvanized, although it had occurred in a different state 70 miles from their Baldwin Borough home. What kept them going was their unshakable faith that their son did not kill himself, that he had, instead, been murdered. They even established a $5,000 reward for information in the case.

Although investigators tried to keep them abreast of developments in the case, there just weren't many to share.

Sixty-one pieces of evidence from the scene that had been submitted to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, including two hairs found in Anthony's otherwise spotless car, were dead ends. The hat found near his body didn't belong to him.

Handwriting analysis of the medical school memorial book turned up nothing. NASA satellite photos taken during late December of the site where the body was found weren't helpful. And a meeting of the Belmont County grand jury to take the testimony of Anthony's medical school peers adjourned without an indictment.

But there was one piece of information that Olen Martin, chief deputy with the Belmont County Sheriff's Office and the lead investigator into Anthony's death, shared with no one. A man in a photograph found near the back door of Anthony's Cincinnati apartment had been identified by a waitress at the Bella Via restaurant in Elm Grove, W.Va., as having accompanied Anthony there in late December. The man was a match for the composite sketch that had been circulated in a three-state area since January.

By summer 1998 Deputy Martin identified the man as Peter van Wordragen, a former co-worker of Anthony's at the GM plant in Warren, Ohio, and though he had made e-mail contact with him once, the suspect had not responded to subsequent efforts.

Through the help of the FBI and Interpol, he flew to Germany in October and confronted Mr. van Wordragen in Frankfurt, where he was working. But his alibi was solid, and the deputy returned to Ohio deflated and dejected.

Just two weeks later, the investigation received a jump start, when Belmont County Coroner Dr. Manuel Villaverde changed his ruling of the cause of death from suicide to "could not be determined." The change would make it easier for investigators to seek records and the help of other law enforcement agencies.

It had taken months of pressure from two U.S. congressmen, Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, whose district includes the Provianos' home, and Bob Ney, a Republican from St. Clairsville, to force the change. But the coroner had also been hearing from his county prosecutor, Frank Pierce.

In a letter to Dr. Villaverde, the prosecutor wrote that by not changing the cause of death from suicide, he risked "the possibility that potential jurors in future murder cases may develop a negative attitude toward you that will harm the prosecution."

Dr. Villaverde said he changed the cause of death to "be nice to the family."

"I still think it's a suicide," he said.


Chapter 8 / First Big Break

A Life Interrupted: A handwritten letter surfaces

The letter that arrived March 12, 1999, at the office of Greene County District Attorney David Pollock was distinguishable by the red printed return address: P.O. Box 200, Camp Hill, PA 15601.

He knew immediately it was from an inmate at the state correctional institution in Camp Hill. He rarely received such mail. But an even bigger surprise was the letter's content.

The inmate, Richard Mraz, claimed that a former drug ring member admitted shooting Anthony Proviano in December 1997.

The district attorney faxed the letter to Olen Martin, chief deputy at the Belmont County, Ohio Sheriff's Office and lead investigator into Anthony's death. Deputy Martin read the single-page handwritten letter twice and leaned back in his office chair.

After 16 months of leads in the case going nowhere, this was something. According to the letter, two people -- Douglas Ray Main, 37, and Marlene "Slim" Smith, 43, both of Washington, Pa. -- killed Anthony after she promised him sex and the subsequent robbery attempt went awry.

According to the ungrammatical letter, Mr. Main admitted killing Anthony "with the guys own gun happened around x-mas time probably 97 Unsolved Homicide."

Both of them were already in prison for their roles in the same drug ring that had landed Mr. Mraz in jail, too.

The deputy knew that the letter, which also mentioned the wrapped Christmas gifts in the trunk of Anthony's car and the deserted township road where his body was found, could have been cobbled from information already published in the media.

Still, the involvement of what he called "the criminal element" made this the case's biggest break in 14 months. Mr. Main and Ms. Smith, who were formerly married, lived close to Belmont County and had criminal records. It didn't take much digging to determine the connections between them and Mr. Mraz led directly to Charles W. Dailey Jr.

With a voice rough as rust, a mind for numbers and the physical size to intimidate, Mr. Dailey masterminded the largest heroin ring in Greene County, catering primarily to customers in adjoining Washington County. The ring sold up to 1,000 packets of heroin a week.

In May 1998, Mr. Dailey and his wife, father and brother plus seven others, including Mr. Main, Mr. Mraz and Ms. Smith, had been arrested, charged and later convicted of selling heroin and running a corrupt organization from his hillside compound.

Before their trials, Mr. Main and Ms. Smith told prosecutors they would be willing to testify against Mr. Dailey. Their help wasn't needed; his own brother provided the most damaging testimony.

Now, in the space of two days in mid-March 1999, the deputy had interviewed Mr. Mraz, Mr. Dailey and Ms. Smith at their respective prisons. The two men said their information about Anthony's death came straight from Mr. Main.

According to Mr. Dailey, his conversation with Doug Main occurred while parked at a St. Clairsville, Ohio, mall in Belmont County preparing to shoplift. Mr. Main was nervous, Mr. Dailey recalled, and said, "I can't get caught here." When asked to explain he said, "me and Slim was gonna rob this guy and I shot him with his own gun." Mr. Main claimed "he hit the guy so hard he knocked him out of his shoes."

Mr. Dailey and Mr. Mraz were willing to take polygraph tests and provide fingerprints and hair samples.

Ms. Smith, however, was not. But when Olen Martin pulled out a photograph of Anthony and threw it on the table in front of her during their long interview, her eyes welled with tears.

"I have to talk to Doug," was all she'd say.

With a criminal record stretching back more than a decade for disorderly conduct, simple assault and retail theft, Mr. Main was well known to Washington County law enforcement. The Navy vet had been married to Ms. Smith from 1992 to 1994, and lived with her in a Washington County motel between September 1997 and February 1998 before moving together into the Dailey compound.

Within days, Deputy Martin had secured a search warrant to retrieve samples of Mr. Main's hair, his photographs and his fingerprints under the Ohio state code for aggravated murder.


Chapter Nine: A Letdown

A Life Interrupted: The hairs don't match -- and a new cause of death

Olen Martin had known it was a long shot from the start, the chance that the only two hairs recovered from Anthony Proviano's car would match either Doug Main or his ex-wife, Marlene "Slim" Smith, the main suspects in the case.

The chief deputy of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office had been in law enforcement long enough to realize that promising leads were never more than that until they were.

The state lab told him at the end of the summer of 1999 that the hairs did not match. That seemed to matter less to the media and the parents of Anthony Proviano than the results of two polygraph tests showing that Doug Main was 99.9 percent deceptive in answering the question "Did you have anything to do with Anthony Proviano's death?"

What troubled Deputy Martin, though, were the polygraph results showing that former drug ring leader Charles Dailey Jr. was telling the truth.

A master of manipulation, Mr. Dailey made no secret of his willingness to share information about the Proviano case with law enforcement officials -- for a price. He wanted his four- to eight-year sentence on drug charges shortened. He wanted to be moved to a different prison. He wanted to be moved to a halfway house.

Between 1999 and 2001 he parceled out several pieces of tantalizing information that directly linked Marlene Smith to Anthony Proviano.

He said she took him to the St. Clairsville, Ohio, Days Inn parking lot on Dec. 26, 1997 and tried to sell him a red Z28 Camaro. She opened the driver's side door and removed a small white box containing a woman's bracelet reading "No. 1 Mom." And she wiped down the door and the interior of the car with her hooded sweatshirt to remove all fingerprints.

But that wasn't all that was on the deputy's mind. A September 1999 quadruple homicide in Belmont County -- he flew to New York's JFK Airport to arrest the suspect -- generated international headlines and required his full attention. And the lack of progress on Anthony's case was making it more difficult to find county funds for the investigation. That same month he handed off primary responsibility for the case to Deputy Bart Giesey.

Doug Main's parole on his drug charges a month later was a blow not only to investigators but also to Anthony's parents.

Carmen and Maryann Proviano were determined not to let the case die. In December, they filed suit against Belmont County Coroner Dr. Manuel Villaverde, seeking monetary damages for "arbitrarily, recklessly, wantonly and in bad faith" ruling that their son committed suicide.

Throughout 2000 they regularly called Belmont County Prosecutor Frank Pierce's office, pushing him to get more involved in the case.

He tried to sympathize with them, telling Carmen, "I know how you feel."

"Like hell you know how I feel," Carmen replied.

In October that year they campaigned in Belmont County for Dr. Villaverde's opponent in the county coroner's race. The challenger, Dr. Gene Kennedy, won the November election by a more than 2-to-1 margin, the first Republican county-wide win in 20 years.

By fall 2001, not only had the Provianos settled their lawsuit, but their campaign efforts paid off: The new coroner changed Anthony's cause of death from "could not be determined" to "homicide."

But Olen Martin had decided to leave the Belmont County sheriff's office for a different job. And Anthony's murder was no closer to being solved.


Chapter 10: A Gathering Storm

A Life Interrupted: A retired detective offers to help

Bill Fera's life was working just fine in 2002. Retired before he was 60. Playing golf. Spending time with his wife. Kids gone from home.

His 10 years with the Allegheny County Police -- seven as a homicide detective -- and 20 years with the H.J. Heinz Co. in human resources and corporate security were far behind him.

But what had begun for him as a vague sense of loss had grown into a deep need to help right a wrong. He picked up the phone in June and called Carmen and Maryann Proviano.

Their son Anthony's death around the 1997 Christmas holiday had troubled him, he told them. His own son had been in medical school at the time. Anthony's life had been full of such promise. If the Provianos were willing, he would work the case.

They immediately agreed. They had been feeling ignored. They had called, visited and pleaded with prosecutors and Deputy Bart Giesey, the only investigator on the case since the departure of Olen Martin in mid-2001, to move forward with the case.

Within days they drove with Mr. Fera to the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office, where the bulk of the case file was turned over to him.

Mr. Fera was appalled at the status of the case. Virtually nothing had been done for a year. One of the first things he did was contact Chris Kelly, chief of the Baldwin Borough police. Involved in the case since the first day, the chief also had chafed over the case's sluggish progress; investigators had failed to identify and interview witnesses, correspondence wasn't answered and the two people he believed were prime suspects -- Ms. Smith and Mr. Main -- were walking free.

Mr. Fera and Chief Kelly were convinced that Ohio prosecutors weren't interested in pursuing the case, and the lack of indictments from two Belmont County grand juries in 2002 only bolstered their belief. The chief called it "incompetence at the highest levels." Mr. Fera re-interviewed everyone involved in the case. He traveled to Arizona and Florida to track down leads. One of his first calls was to Ms. Smith.

He knew this much: Ms. Smith had a brother who died of alcohol poisoning and her father had an affair with her stepsister that resulted in three children. Nicknamed Slim Goody as a kid, she was a high school dropout. Divorced twice, she hadn't seen the son from her first marriage in years. And she was a longtime heroin addict made mean, people said, when she was strung out.

He called her cell phone and offered her a chance to tell him "how she and Doug killed Anthony Proviano."

"You can't prove anything," she said.

But I will, he told her, lying that he had DNA evidence linking her to the crime.

She immediately shaved her head, thinking it would prevent her DNA from being taken.

In early 2003, former drug ring leader Charles Dailey Jr. called the chief. He said Ms. Smith had come into his pawn shop in Washington, Pa., and demanded an employee give her money "if you don't want Doug and me to do what we did to Proviano ..."

A short time later, he told the chief about a security video from his shop in which Ms. Smith implicated Mr. Main. In the grainy video she says, "Me and Doug robbed a guy. Doug shot him and left him for dead. We were so scared we left all the Christmas presents in the car."

By March, however, Mr. Dailey had disappeared after being charged with a misdemeanor that could send him back to prison. He insisted Chief Kelly work a deal to help him. There was no deal, and in December he was returned to state prison.

But in August 2004, Mr. Dailey was released to a Beaver County halfway house. He told the chief he had new information: Ms. Smith had told him the previous fall that Doug Main's mother had offered her $5,000 if she could find a blue headband on an overgrown hill near the St. Clairsville Days Inn. Ms. Smith had asked Mr. Dailey to help. They tried to find it but failed.

Mr. Dailey mailed Chief Kelly a map of that search. A few days later, the chief and Mr. Fera checked him out of the halfway house to accompany them to the site.

After 25 minutes of searching the deep, wet undergrowth they found the blue headband.

Two months later, on Oct. 22, 2004, a secret session of the Belmont County grand jury returned joint indictments against Mr. Main and Ms. Smith, charging them with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Anthony Proviano.


Chapter 11: Preparation

A Life Interrupted: A trial date is set -- and new discoveries

The November 2004 call from Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John M. Solovan II was to the point: Would attorney Thomas A. Hampton serve as special prosecutor in a murder case scheduled for 2005?

A longtime prosecuting attorney in Belmont County, Ohio, the 54-year-old Mr. Hampton had been special prosecutor in a 1993 child rape case in which the defendant was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms.

That case was an anomaly, though. He had 13 years' experience prosecuting drug and other felony cases, but when Judge Solovan called, his practice was comfortably busy, and time with his wife and on the tennis courts were equal priorities with it.

"Sorry, judge, what case is that?" he asked.

The three boxes of evidence in the Anthony Proviano case didn't overwhelm him. What did, initially, was realizing how much remained to be done before Douglas Main's scheduled Jan. 4, 2005, trial on charges of murdering the 29-year-old medical student in December 1997.

Under Ohio's speedy trial law, defendants in custody must be tried within 90 days or released; more than two-thirds of Mr. Main's time already had passed.

In addition, Mr. Hampton discovered that evidence was missing from the Belmont County sheriff's office. Worst of all was the realization that the success of his prosecution rested on the credibility of Charles W. Dailey Jr.

While Mr. Dailey had shared important information with investigators during the past few years, it was parceled out according to how it might best serve his own interests. The special prosecutor knew that having the former head of a heroin ring and his friends as his key witnesses was a poor formula for success.

He continued the January trial date until April. In February, Mr. Hampton offered a plea agreement to Marlene "Slim" Smith, Mr. Main's ex-wife. In prison on murder charges in the case since October, she could plead to lower-level felonies in exchange for testimony against Doug.

But, he said, "it has to be true and it has to be something you can pass a polygraph [test] on."

She laughed at him.

A few weeks later, Deputy Bart Giesey, for nearly three years the sole investigator in the case, was let go in a reorganization by the new Belmont County sheriff.

In May, facing trial, Mr. Hampton reached an agreement with Mr. Main's attorney that his client's speedy trial rights would be suspended in exchange for release on his own recognizance.

By summer 2005, the special prosecutor knew the case against Mr. Main was weak: no witnesses, no fingerprints, no footprints, no matching hair fibers.

But three events that summer turned the case on its head. The first was the hiring of Charles Snyder, a veteran Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation agent in Boardman and former Akron police homicide detective, to assist Mr. Hampton.

The second was the discovery that the DNA in the gloves found near Anthony's body did not match anyone connected with the case.

The third was arrival of two anonymous envelopes at Mr. Hampton's office. They contained papers and writings of Ms. Smith, who, under speedy trial laws, had been released in July from the Belmont County Jail.

Mr. Hampton read the material and immediately sealed the envelopes to be used as evidence in any upcoming trial. Mr. Snyder set out to discover who'd sent them.

Her name was Leslie Long and her story was so compelling that the prosecution immediately arranged for a polygraph test. The results were "inconclusive," but her information rang more true to Mr. Hampton than his entire case against Mr. Main.

He kept the details to himself and Agent Snyder, but in November, a year after joining the case, he dropped Mr. Main's murder charges. The move infuriated Anthony's parents, Carmen and Maryann Proviano.

Because of Ms. Smith's antics in the courtroom during previous hearings, a series of competency hearings were held that fall to make sure she could stand trial in early 2006.

Mr. Hampton, meanwhile, had set up "Proviano tables" in his law office, where he spread his growing case file. He had turned the guest room at home into a second office where he often pored over court documents and investigators' notes at 3 a.m. The case was consuming him; his regular practice suffered.

Ms. Smith's trial was finally set for mid-February. The special prosecutor knew his work had really just begun.


Chapter 12: Trials and Tribulations

A Life Interrupted: A guilty verdict

Special prosecutor Thomas A. Hampton stood behind the laptop computer that blinked images of Anthony Proviano onto a wall for the jury. His Feb. 13, 2006 opening statement, tinged with accents of his Georgia upbringing, slowly began building the murder case against Marlene "Slim" Smith.

She watched from the defense table, her orange prison jumpsuit replaced with a dark blue pants suit, her bleached blonde hair now gray. Earlier competency hearings had certified her for trial in the 9-year-old murder, but even in the darkened Belmont County, Ohio courtroom people could see her inexplicably break into broad grins as Mr. Hampton told the jury of her involvement.

During his 40-minute presentation, Mr. Hampton revisited the history of the investigation -- Mr. Proviano's plan of joining his parents at their Baldwin Borough home for Christmas, his renting a room at the St. Clairsville Days Inn, his body found with a single chest wound, the original suicide ruling by the former Belmont County coroner, the prison inmate's letter that first implicated Ms. Smith, her effort to sell Mr. Proviano's car.

Over the next week as the trial moved forward, the principles testified: Carmen and Maryann Proviano, Baldwin police Officers Matthew Kearns and Robert Artman, former investigator Olen Martin, Ms. Smith's ex-husband Doug Main, former heroin ring leader Charles Dailey Jr., Baldwin Police Chief Chris Kelly.

There were others, like Dr. Jeffrey Lee, chief forensic pathologist in Licking County, Ohio. On an enlarged photo of Anthony Proviano's face, he placed a life-size overlay of the gun that killed him. The parallel marks on the right side of Anthony Proviano's forehead not only were inflicted on him "right around or just prior to his death," the doctor said, but they matched the raised edges of the gun's handle.

And like Kim Reising, a Baldwin police officer, who had been in contact with Ms. Smith for three years. At 2:17 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2003, Marlene called her and left a voice message, but forgot afterward to hang up her own phone.

The tape recording was a cacophony of shouts and curses. One part, however, was very clear.

"I'm a murderer!" Ms. Smith shouts. "You heard that? I'm a murderer!"

And like Leslie Long, owner of a master's degree and a nine-year sentence for attempting to murder her husband. She and Ms. Smith became friends while both were in the Belmont County Jail from March to September 2005. She recalled Ms. Smith kept a newspaper photo of Anthony Proviano on her cell wall.

Ms. Long had anonymously mailed documents to the special prosecutor that were found in the jail trash. The papers were discovery documents that Ms. Smith's attorney had given her. In the margins, she had scribbled various things, including "His name was Tony. He wanted to party. He was so soft + sexy, very much a gentleman."

The documents were important to Mr. Hampton not so much for what they said but for leading him to someone who had talked with Ms. Smith. And in court, Ms. Long's testimony was potent.

"[Marlene] told me she was starved" for drugs, Ms. Long said. She said that when she was on drugs "she was very bold, not afraid to do anything. She liked to torture people.

"She told me he had been hit in the head with a gun three times and that he had been shot. She led me to believe she was not alone. She just always said the name 'Doug.' "

Mr. Hampton hammered all the points home in his closing statement.

"She was responsible," he said of Ms. Smith. "She feels guilty. She was there. She shot him. She killed him."

After 10 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury returned its verdict: guilty.

On a back bench in the courtroom, Carmen and Maryann Proviano hugged and cried.

Jury members, who had steadfastly avoided looking at Anthony Proviano's parents, now stared sadly at them.

After her attorney said he'd appeal, Marlene Smith was led out in handcuffs into a phalanx of TV lights.

She just smiled.


A Life Interrupted: The Epilogue

Many things made sense in the end.

In March 2006, Marlene Smith was sentenced to serve 18 years to life in prison for Anthony Proviano's murder.

Eleven months later, a Belmont County, Ohio, jury found her ex-husband, Doug Main, not guilty of perjury and obstruction in the case. The jury deliberated less than three hours before returning its verdict.

Special prosecutor Thomas A. Hampton wasn't surprised. He knew going into the trial the case against Mr. Main was weak.

Accordingly, on April 24, he dismissed obstruction and perjury charges against Douglas St. Clair.

Testimony at the earlier trials had revealed Mr. St. Clair's personal relationship with Ms. Smith during the time of Anthony's murder. But the same prosecution witnesses from Mr. Main's trial would have taken the stand, and jurors told Mr. Hampton they were not believable.

Briefs have been filed in Ms. Smith's appeal, but the court of appeals has not scheduled a date for oral arguments.

She has not spoken about the case.

Many other issues, however, remain unresolved.

It's unknown how Anthony met Ms. Smith, or where. Neither have there been answers to why Anthony rented a hotel room, how his gun was used, and how Mr. Main and Mr. St. Clair were involved.

The most important question of all is the one that will never be answered: Why did this happen to Anthony?

His medical school classmates are now in practice, with families and careers. His beloved Z28 Camaro was sold years ago. Photos of him through his first 29 years adorn his parents' home.

A singular pain holds parents who lose a child to murder. The inexplicability and immensity of loss never leave. Any unremarkable part of every day can unexpectedly produce pain.

Anthony's parents believe he intended to help Ms. Smith by getting her a hotel room that cold December night. They'll continue believing that as long as the grim truth remains unknown.


The victim

Anthony Proviano


The body of Anthony Proviano is taken out of the woods
near the Days Inn in St. Clairsville, Ohio.
(Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)



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