Deputies looking for leads 15 years after pregnant woman's murder

By Tim Pulliam - email

LEXINGTON, SC (WIS) - A pregnant woman was beaten and strangled to death 15 years ago. Lexington investigators believe the person responsible did not want the woman's baby to be born.

Debra Smith's family says she could always light up a room. "She's been missing," said Debra's brother, Jesse Johnson. "That smile's been missing."

Leaving an empty spot in Johnson's heart. His sister was murdered 15 years ago. Her killer is still out there. "It's time for them to quit running and being a coward about what they have done," said Johnson.

Forcing Debra's children to live without their mother. Debra's oldest daughter, Shalunda, was just 9 years old. "It hurts, because over that period of time I've grown up to be a grown woman," said Shalunda Smith. "Finished school. Had four kids. I didn't have a mother by my side to be their for me and help me go through the experience."

On January 29, 1996, investigators say Debra met someone near Bozard Mill Road and Bernard Street. It's the same spot she was killed.

That night, a teenager found Debra's body bruised and beaten. She was eight months pregnant.

"Somebody don't think no more about somebody than to think about them as trash and leave them on the side of the road," said Johnson.

Investigators say Debra was strangled. Even worse, all her bruises were on her stomach. Officers believe Debra's baby was the target.

"We need someone to come forward and say, 'you know, back then this guy was really uncomfortable about Debra being pregnant,'" said Lexington County Deputy Scottie Frier.

They need information that can help them pinpoint a suspect. After 15 years, Debra's family is hoping this is the year someone will come forward, so they can move on.

"I'm going to put it in God's hands. I know he will make a way. That I do believe."

Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.