Dentist arrested in homicide

City and county emergency personnel responded to 464 State Road 523 on Dec. 13 in response to a 911 call for a possible attempted suicide. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Forensic evidence led to the arrest Tuesday morning of a local dentist suspected of killing Laura McNaughton.

Police said James Smith, 36, of Clovis, is charged with an open count of murder. McNaughton, 30, was fatally strangled, according to 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler. Pheasant hunters found her body, naked and battered, Dec. 10 in a ditch north of Clovis.

A New Mexico Crime Lab forensic scientist matched blood collected from a running board of Smith’s truck to McNaughton, police reports show.

Chandler would not say if McNaughton had been sexually assaulted.

“We had circumstantial evidence in this case,” Chandler said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “The forensic result was the piece investigators needed to go forward with the arrest.”

Smith, who practiced dentistry in Clovis and Portales, is being held at Curry County Adult Detention Center without bond, Chandler said. Police issued a warrant for his arrest at 11 a.m. Tuesday, highlighting more than 1,400 hours of intense police investigation led by the Major Crimes Unit, Chandler said.

Chandler said he did not know if Smith was represented by an attorney. Numerous attempts to contact Smith family members and friends for comment were not successful on Tuesday.

Police reports show Smith denied killing McNaughton, a mother of two young girls, in a note he left for his wife.
“On the note to his wife, James Smith relayed to his wife that he did not kill that ‘woman,’” the report showed, “and that the only thing he was guilty of was ‘flirting.’ In the section of the note where he relayed that he didn’t kill the ‘woman,’ James Smith ended the sentence with a period, followed by an exclamation mark.”

Officials said they first interviewed Smith about his relationship with McNaughton on Dec. 12. The next day, Smith attempted suicide at his east Clovis home, police said. The La Casa de Buena Salud dentist stabbed himself three times in the abdomen, according to police reports.

The Clovis High School graduate was released from a Lubbock hospital on Sunday, none of his wounds life threatening, officials said.

The dentist was a regular patron of the Rib Crib Restaurant where McNaughton worked. Chandler would not comment on the relationship of the victim to the suspect, except to say police believed it was a “patron relationship.”

Police reports show Smith had regular contact with McNaughton, and those close to her said McNaughton did not trust him.

Items found in Smith’s office referenced movies about the violent slaying of women, police reports showed. He defaced a celebrity poster, tracing three piercings that correspond with McNaughton’s eyebrow, nose and belly button piercings onto the celebrity.

Members of McNaughton’s family said a dentist was “weirding her out,” according to the police reports. Friends and Rib Crib employees said Smith visited the restaurant on Fridays to see Laura and usually tipped her up to $20, police reports showed.

Chandler said he does not believe anyone else besides Smith was involved in McNaughton’s killing.
The district attorney said Smith will be arraigned in the next few days. In the next 10 days, he said, evidence against Smith will be presented to a grand jury to establish probable cause to proceed with a court trial.