Family, friends celebrate life of slain woman

OLIVE BRANCH, IL – For the first time since the murder of Nita Jo Smith, her friends and family are coming together to celebrate her life.

Smith and coworker Anita Grace, were killed allegedly by James Watts during his attempt to rob the First National Bank in Cairo, IL, in May of 2014.

When it came to a family reunion, Cindi Bertelsmeyer says no one could bring a crowd together like her aunt Nita Jo Smith.

"She was number 1 when it came to family functions,” said Bertelsmeyer.  “She was the glue that held the family together."

On May 15th, 2014 that changed when Nita Jo’s life was tragically taken.

"My life changed totally that day, totally," said Carol Kachadorian.

"She was just so precious to us,” said Morrissa Clanahan.  “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her."

"I didn’t want to believe it,” said Karen Marquardt.  “It was really hard."

Smith’s family says they miss the little things the most.

"Her birthday is coming up and I can’t tell her happy birthday," said Bertelsmeyer.

"You sit there and you just want to call her and talk to her," said Marquardt.

In the aftermath of Smith’s murder, last year’s family reunion was canceled.

"We couldn’t go through with it," said Clanahan.

This year Smith’s family is using their reunion as a celebration of her life.

"Anytime we get together it’s like we always like she’s there," said Marquardt.

"We know Nita Jo is with us in our hearts,” said Clanahan.  “She’ll always be with us in our hearts." 

A memory they plan to keep alive by annually coming together and honoring her life.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty for James Watts, the man accused of the murders.

Watts’ trial is set to begin in January of 2017.

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