Trial begins for man accused of murder in Whatcom stabbing

A jury trial began this week for a man accused of fatally stabbing another man in the throat during a fight in March.

Jeremy Derek McClellan, 25, of Skagit County died from a stab wound to his neck the morning of March 22. Deputies found McClellan in the doorway of a trailer in south Whatcom County, 319 Pacific Highway, surrounded by a pool of blood around 6:30 that morning.

His accused killer, 45-year-old William Ralph Smith, lived on another trailer at the property. Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies said the two had gotten into a fight that resulted in Smith stabbing McClellan with a knife. Smith was arrested and charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with second-degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon.

On Wednesday, May 20, less than two months after the incident, Smith’s attorneys argued that it was McClellan, not Smith, who was the aggressor.

“This case is going to be about how Ralph Smith defended himself from the attack of Jeremy McClellan, a thug, who was high on meth,” Deputy Public Defender Angela Anderson told jurors Wednesday.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey’s opening statement, however, portrayed a different scenario in which Smith lunged at McClellan with a knife, killed him, then placed items near the scene to make it look like McClellan was the aggressor.

The trailer McClellan died in belonged to Ron White, who had owned the property for several years. Smith lived in a trailer on White’s property, but White was in the process of evicting Smith for not paying rent. White, who says he saw part of the fatal altercation from his trailer, was the prosecution’s first witness.

McClellan, his sister and two other people came over to visit White the night before the deadly fight, White said. White admitted that they all, including McClellan, had smoked methamphetamine that night before McClellan left at some point. He came back around 3:30 a.m., with Smith just minutes behind him. Those two played foosball together in White’s home.

When they were done playing foosball, Smith told McClellan to visit him in his trailer in half an hour, White said. White looked out his window and saw two figures — which he later identified as Smith and McClellan — talking to each other. He then saw Smith lunge at McClellan’s throat. McClellan ran into the woods, and Smith ran after him and started hitting him in the side. .

White called 911. The other people there either talked to Smith about what happened or stayed with McClellan. White started CPR as deputies arrived, but he couldn’t save him.

“I felt him go,” White said Wednesday. “I wanted to be the hero and save him, but he just lost all his blood.”

Smith told deputies that McClellan was wielding an ax, and his fatal injury came when McClellan stepped and fell on a broken beer bottle. But Smith had no explanation for the additional stab wounds on McClellan’s back, according to charging papers filed in Whatcom County Superior Court. Deputies found a bottle underneath a truck with blood on it, but deputies thought Smith had broken the bottle on the truck’s back bumper.

Smith’s girlfriend told deputies the day of McClellan’s death that she had seen him wielding an ax at Smith, but she later recanted that story and said Smith purposely smashed the bottle after McClellan’s death, charges say.

Deputies later found a knife in Smith’s home with fresh blood on it, with both his and McClellan’s DNA, Richey said.

Defense attorney Anderson, however, told jurors that witnesses will testify that McClellan did, in fact, wield an ax. She challenged White’s testimony and focused on his and McClellan’s drug abuse. Anderson said her client had never met McClellan prior to that night.

“What’s missing,” Anderson said, “is a motive. Why my client, in cold blood, would kill a guy that he just met for the first time that night.”