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Woman held in death of man locked outside during freeze

JONESBORO — The caretaker of a man found frozen to death in her backyard in January has been charged with murder and elder abuse.

Dale El Smith, 73, is being held in Clayton County Jail pending a May 20 preliminary hearing. Bond was denied Monday morning during her first appearance hearing but can be considered again May 23.

The body of Arthur Gary Pelham, 66, was found facedown in Smith’s backyard at 9479 Whaley Lakes Lane Jan. 6. Weather records indicate temperatures were below freezing that day.

Warrants allege that Pelham was left outside for nine hours in sub-freezing weather while Smith stayed inside her bedroom just yards away watching television for 10 hours. Police said Pelham, who suffered from coronary atherosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease, died from hypothermia.

Police said Pelham was sent outside the home to wait on transport to Sarah’s Adult Day Services. However, the facility was closed that day because of inclement weather and the van never arrived, according to the warrants.

Neighbors made contact with Pelham, who looked “extremely cold,” and told him to go back inside the house. Pelham reportedly told them he’d knocked and rang the doorbell but Smith wouldn’t let him inside. Because of his mental condition, Pelham was not allowed to retain a key to the home, police said.

About six hours later, another neighbor saw Pelham motionless on the ground near a lower level door and called 911. Two dogs were protecting his body and wouldn’t let anyone close to him, said police.

Medics who responded had to get neighbors to remove the dogs as Smith refused to cooperate, said police.

“She was uncooperative and showed minor concern about Pelham’s condition,” the warrant stated.