14 years after woman was killed in DC, police make arrest in cold case

WASHINGTON — A new set of eyes on the murder of a young woman in D.C. 14 years ago has led to an arrest this week.

Tony Aiken, 47, was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder while armed for the death of 23-year-old Kendra Mercedes Smith.

On Sept. 6, 2004, D.C. police responded to the 400 block of Burbank Street Southeast to reports of a shooting. At the scene, they found the Temple University graduate and mother of a 1-year-old daughter shot in the head in a car.

Aiken was the last man seen with Smith, according to Smith’s mother, Deborah Evans-Bailey.

Kendra Mercedes Smith, 23, had a 1-year-old daughter at the time. Smith was also a Temple University graduate. (Courtesy Deborah Evans-Bailey)

Evans-Bailey remembered the day her daughter got into a car with Aiken. Moments later, she heard gun shots and then, her phone rang. It was a neighbor telling her that her daughter, Smith, had been shot. Smith would die in the days to follow at the hospital.

Evans-Bailey said she had suspected Aiken may have been behind the murder for years. “He said in a conversation with myself and Kendra’s father that he didn’t hear anything, and he didn’t see anything, and he didn’t know anything, and I just never believed that — period,” Evans-Bailey said.

According to court records, over the years, the information police gathered led them down several possible paths, but those investigations never led to the naming of Aiken as a suspect.

Then, in 2015, detective Charles Fultz gave a new set of eyes to the case and began by reviewing the evidence in the case.

The cold-case detective learned from family, friends and from Smith’s diary that Smith had a history of on-again, off-again relationships with Aiken. She had been involved with him while she was also involved in a long-term relationship with another man with whom she had a child.

On the day of the murder, investigators said Aiken and Smith were believed to have been discussing the relationships, the end of their relationship and Smith’s possible plans to move to California. Smith’s diary revealed that she had reservations about her relationship with Aiken and had been considering moving to the West Coast.

Fultz also discovered Smith was the victim of a “close contact” shooting, where the gun was touching her left temple, and at the time, it was believed Aiken was the only person in the car with Smith. Ballistics testing also showed that the same gun that killed Smith at close range was also fired outside the vehicle in an alleged attempt to stage the crime scene, investigators said.

Witness reports also have police not ruling out that others may have helped to cover up the crime.

For Evans-Bailey, she said she is thankful that Fultz took up the case, but added that while the arrest moves the family closer to justice for Smith, the pain of losing her daughter still lingers for her and her granddaughter.

“Because of the arrest, it doesn’t bring Kendra back. Kendra has a baby who is now 15, so she’s at that age where she’s asking questions, a lot of questions, and I don’t have all the answers to some of those questions,” Evans-Bailey said.

She added that she intends to attend all the hearings to come in Smith’s case and urges other parents of victims whose cases have gone cold to “never give up hope” that justice will come.

Aiken made his first appearance Friday and was ordered held without bond. A preliminary hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 13.

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