An ugly chapter in Columbia County's history finally came to a close Thursday with a guilty verdict in the 2001 murder of Daniel "Mack" Smith.
It is bitterly ironic that the story likely would have remained unresolved if Brian Nichols had not gunned down four people in Atlanta a year ago.
Nichols' shooting spree, for which he has yet to stand trial, eventually led him to seek refuge in the apartment of Ashley Smith after accosting her in her building's parking lot.
The story at that point is well-known, having been retold in Smith's book, "Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero." Smith let Nichols use her stash of methamphetamine, and then read to him from Rick Warren's best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life." Nichols surrendered peacefully to police the next day.
In an entirely unintended consequence, the subsequent, intense media spotlight on Smith also lit up the languishing investigation into her husband's stabbing death in the parking lot of Applecross Apartments in Martinez.
With the new attention shaking up the dormant case, Columbia County investigators soon made arrests for Mack Smith's death.
On Thursday, a Columbia County jury found 23-year-old Corey Blaine Coggins guilty of malice and felony murder, and Judge Carl Brown sentenced him to the mandatory life imprisonment.
"I feel like it's OK for me to move on," Ashley Smith told Chronicle reporter Johnny Edwards. "I think that's what Mack would want me to do."
Columbia County can move on from the ugly stain of an unsolved murder, too - made all the more ugly by the fact that Mack Smith, the trial revealed, was a police informant who died while denying it to his accusers.
Ashley Smith, a genuine hero and a true inspiration to everyone, certainly deserves to put her past behind her. These past five years of her young life have been full of tragedies, and it should give everyone hope to see her now triumph over such adversity.
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