FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The tiny victim was repeatedly hit on the head, her arms and legs taped together. Someone stood on her neck and kicked her.
Then her head was held under water in a bathtub at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel until she drowned.
The man charged with her murder was in court Tuesday under the assumption he would be taking a plea deal since that was what was indicated in court documents.
Instead, Terry Smith, Jr., 35, formerly of Bluffton, told Magistrate Sam Keirns he wanted a speedy trial.
It took about 10 minutes to consult Allen Superior Court Judge David Zent’s court calendar where they found the speediest available starts on July 5. In front of his attorney, Gregory Fumarolo, Smith said he didn’t need a pre-trial conference.
Destiny Erhardt, sister-in-law to the victim, Tiffany Ferris, 35, sat in the courtroom, trying not to sob as she wiped her eyes several times. She said she was trying to get Smith to look at her, but his eyes never made their way to that section of the public seating area. Smith seemed defiant as he dismissed the idea of a plea agreement and demanded a trial, now scheduled for three days.
Erhardt was in favor of the plea deal which would have most likely given Smith 50 years in prison because her family didn’t want to be dragged through a trial. Ferris leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son who now live with their grandparents.
“Her daughter is never going to know her,” Erhardt said. “She always, always wanted children. She wanted to be a mom.”
Yes, she went down the wrong path, said Erhardt, the only family member to attend the court procedure, “but she didn’t deserve this.
“I know she was into drugs,” said Erhardt who didn’t have a reason for why she was because she didn’t have a bad life. “She had so many people who loved her. She had a good support system. I’ll never understand,” adding that she wanted Smith “put away for life.”
During the early morning hours of May 10, 2021 when Ferris was killed, sometime before 8:48 a.m. when a 911 call was placed by someone who discovered her body, there were two other people in the bathroom located in a hotel room used for storage, according to a desk clerk. The room was at the back of the inn and only accessed by a back window.
Tiffany was from Decatur, but, apparently, at that time, lived at the Suburban Extended Stay, Erhardt said.
A young woman who witnessed Tiffany’s death and said she was forced to participate in taping her arms and holding her under water, is now dead. A third, a man, been charged with armed robbery the three allegedly perpetrated the same day and will be sentenced Thursday, court documents indicate.
Erhardt said just after Ferris’ death that Tiffany was about 4 feet 10 inches tall and “90 pounds soaking wet.”
According to the witness, Smith was the mastermind of the killing, angry with Tiffany for “stealing and using his narcotics,” the probable cause affidavit filed a few days after Ferris’ death indicated.
After Ferris had died, the witness said Smith wanted to stage the scene to make it look like Ferris had overdosed. Smith allegedly placed drug paraphernalia in the bathroom and burned some of the tape used to tie her up. He also removed her clothing and some of the bloodstained portions of the carpet using scissors, court documents said.
The witness said the three of them left the room with the blood soaked carpet and discarded it out of the Smith’s black Ford F150, court documents said.
Smith was picked up three days later in his Ford pick-up in Muncie, Indiana. During his interview with detectives, he denied any involvement in Ferris’ death.
A forensic pathologist told detectives he would rule Ferris’ death a homicide by drowning and that her injuries were “consistent” with what the female witness told them. Now she’s dead as well as her friend, Tiffany Ferris.