Published: 14:37, 24 January 2019
| Updated: 15:45, 24 January 2019
A father who claimed he was acting in self-defence when he killed a man during an argument over access to children has been sensationally cleared of murder and manslaughter.
The jury’s unanimous verdict today was met with an angry reaction from the victim’s family and friends in the public gallery.
One woman, believed to be Smith's partner, shouted at the eight women and four men: “Are you all mad? Rot in hell. I hope you can sleep at night.
"How can he walk away when I have three girls at home without a dad? You are a disgrace. I hope Ronnie haunts your bones."
At least one of the female jurors wept as the panel left the court.
Joe Chuter had maintained he lashed out with a knife and repeatedly stabbed Ronnie Smith because he and his partner Tasha Wakefield were under attack.
The 28-year-old claimed he and Miss Wakefield were trying to get Mr Smith out of their Gravesend home while being threatened with scissors.
Speaking after the verdict, Miss Wakefield said: "Oh my God, I can't believe it. I am so happy I am crying."
Chuter is due to be released after spending about six months in custody.
Questioned by prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC, Mr Chuter said: “Have you ever had anyone come to your house and threaten your wife and child?
“I am not having it. Do you know what it’s like when you have a family terrorising you every single day?”
Maidstone Crown Court heard Mr Smith, 31, went to the house in Taunton Vale while acting as an “intermediary” about access to his younger brother’s children.
When he arrived he threatened the couple with the scissors, the jury was told.
He was pushed out, but Mr Chuter grabbed a knife from the mantelpiece and stabbed Mr Smith three times. A wound to the abdomen proved fatal.
Mr Bennetts said Mr Smith’s brother George, 27, had two children with Miss Wakefield, 28, and they argued over access.
They separated in 2016 and Miss Wakefield started a relationship with Chuter.
On Saturday, July 21, she told George he could not see the children and Ronnie, a 6ft 2in tall security officer at Gatwick Airport, went to the house to speak to her about it.
Mr Smith drove from his home in Staplehurst and parked his car in St Alban’s Close. Miss Wakefield was in the living room with Mr Chuter, who was holding their young child.
Miss Wakefield claimed Mr Smith walked in and said: “I ain’t going to be nice no more. Is he allowed to see his kids, or do I have to beat this ----?”
She continued that Mr Smith took out scissors from his pocket, held it to Mr Chuter’s throat and asked: “Is he allowed to see the kids or am I going to cut this ---- up?”
Miss Wakefield took the child from Mr Chuter. She said she pushed the scissors away from her partner’s throat and she was then backhanded by Mr Smith.
She and Mr Chuter pushed him out of the front door. Mr Smith put his foot in the door. Mr Chuter, she said, then ran out and she shut the door.
George Smith was at a nearby friend’s house when he saw his brother’s car rolling down the hill and stopping in St Patrick’s Gardens. He ran over and found Ronnie slumped in the car.
He was bleeding and unconscious. He was taken to King’s College Hospital in London, but died the following morning. The fatal wound was to the left side of his abdomen.
He also had stab wounds to the left side of his face, which had damaged his skull, and his right palm, which could have been a defensive injury.
Mr Chuter, who denied the charges, rejected a suggestion that he acted in an unreasonable way. He also denied stabbing Mr Smith to teach him a lesson.
Asked why he did not call 999 from his mobile phone, he said: “I didn’t know what actually happened – not until the next day. I didn’t know I injured him bad. I knew I got him.
“I didn’t know I had stabbed him in the stomach. It was a rush. Everything was so fast.”
Asked why he did not call the police and ask for help, he replied:”I was in shock. I thought my other half had done it (called the police).”
Mr Chuter, who is 5ft 5in tall, said he ran off because he feared that George Smith or his friends might go to the house.
“If I ran off they were after me, not them,” he continued. “I thought if I ran off they will come for me, not attack my child and other half.”
He said he stayed in an alleyway that night and went to his sister’s home the next day. He claimed he then discovered Mr Smith had died.
He admitted burning his clothing and burying the knife at his sister’s house.
"I was in shock,” he said. “I was in panic mode. I am not a violent person – never have been.
“It was self-defence: When a man comes into your house and beats your other half and beats your child, yes, that’s self-defence.
“We were trying to get him out and he got his foot in the door. He had scissors in his right hand. He is walking backwards, but not to leave.
“He is 6ft 2in and sixteen stone. He has got strength on him. When he has got my partner by the hair by the front door, I have gone for him.
“I didn’t intend to kill him. I just wanted him out of the house. When he was waving the scissors he was saying: ‘I am going to kill you.’”
Sherry Coster denied a suggestion by Chuter's barrister Oliver Saxby QC that her partner Ronnie Smith was “steamed up” and had gone to the house that night to have a row.
"Family was everything to Ronnie,” she said. “He would tell me he was saddened that George couldn't see his children and those children were going to grow up not seeing George.
"He wouldn't have taken a weapon to hurt. He would rather walk away from an argument than get involved because he was too worried about losing his job."
The jury deliberated for about seven hours before returning the not guilty verdicts.
Judge Adele Williams praised the police for their “thorough investigation”.
More by this authorKeith Hunt