Transient Pleads Innocent in Killing of Social Worker

Times Staff Writer

Inside a Santa Monica courtroom Thursday, the attorney for David Scott Smith, a transient accused of stabbing a psychiatric social worker to death last week, entered a plea of innocent in his client's behalf.

Outside the courtroom, the attorney, assistant public defender Leon Hitch, said: "My client is real remorseful for his actions. He has told me that he feels awful for what happened. Without admitting guilt, he told me that he is real sorry Robbyn is dead."

Smith, 26, is charged with murdering Robbyn Panitch, a counselor at a Santa Monica mental health clinic who regularly met with him. According to court documents Smith told detectives that he thought Panitch was the Antichrist and that he had to kill her before she killed him.

Witnesses said Smith yelled obscenities and stabbed the 36-year-old woman more than 30 times with a buck knife before other counselors at the clinic were able to stop him.

The 5-foot, 7-inch, 150-pound suspect is being held without bail in the medical ward of the county jail. He appeared in court wearing a yellow jail uniform with his hands cuffed.

Smith spoke briefly to his attorney but did not address the court.

"I'm sure he's been receiving treatment and medication in jail, so that may cause him to behave differently now than when the incident occurred," Hitch said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Wilkinson said Smith, who has been described as a loner and has spent the last few months living in Santa Monica parks, could receive 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

"But at this point we have not determined if he will be charged with first-degree, second-degree murder or manslaughter," said Wilkinson. "There's a lot of research to be done."

Hitch said he has also not decided whether he will argue that his client was insane at the time of the killing. If that argument prevailed, Smith could be hospitalized indefinitely.

"We still have to evaluate his medical records and have doctors examine him before I can determine his mental state," said Hitch. "It's still too soon to tell."

Smith was under Panitch's care at the Santa Monica West Mental Health Clinic.

Evidence of Smith's mental condition is expected to be presented at his preliminary hearing set for March 16.

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