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FBI to review honeymooner's 2005 cruise ship death

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN
updated 7:38 AM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • George Smith went overboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2005
  • His family is convinced it was murder
  • The FBI office in New York has agreed to look at the case

New York (CNN) -- The mother of a man who died while honeymooning on a cruise in 2005 has new hope that the mystery surrounding his death will be solved after the FBI's New York office agreed to review the case.

"The tide is turning, I think, now," Maureen Smith, the mother of George Smith, told CNN on Tuesday. "With their resources we are going to be charging ahead."

George Smith, 26, went overboard from the Royal Caribbean ship Brilliance of the Seas on July 5, 2005, at 4:30 a.m., according to Smith family attorney Michael Jones. His wife, Jennifer Hagel-Smith, was found passed out in a hallway of the cruise ship that morning, Jones said.

Investigators found blood on the sheets in the Smiths' room and on the canopy over the lifeboats, about a 20- to 30-foot fall from Smiths' stateroom, the attorney said. A four-fingered bloody handprint was found on the ship's edge, where it appears Smith had been holding on before he descended into the water, Jones told CNN.

The Smith family has long held the belief that George was murdered.

"It's very difficult, and we have had many obstacles put in our path, but we are still here and we are still fighting," Maureen Smith said.

Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI's New York office, told CNN the office was reviewing the matter.

A statement Tuesday from Royal Caribbean International emphasized the cruise line has consistently "provided unfettered support, assistance and cooperation to the FBI, including the provision of all documents and materials that were requested.

"As part of these efforts, Royal Caribbean assembled over 6,000 pages of documents covering its investigation of the disappearance of Mr. Smith and made all this information available to the FBI. The company has worked closely with all law enforcement agencies including the FBI and remains readily available to them if there is any further inquiry into the matter," the statement said.

Jones said the family had been seeking the transfer of jurisdiction from the FBI's Connecticut office to the agency's New York bureau for almost two years, after a video surfaced that showed at least three Russian-American passengers on the same cruise joking about George's death.

"Two of the targets from the investigation reside in New York," Jones said.

The attorney said he became aware of the video when lawyers for the cruise line turned over information and video after the Smith family reached a settlement with Royal Caribbean.

Jones said the video is in the possession of the FBI. While he hasn't seen it himself, he said he's been told what's on it by an attorney for Royal Caribbean.

It apparently shows one of the Russian-American passengers making an incriminating statement.

The passenger "stands up, hunches his shoulders and flashes gang signs, in the context of George's death," Jones said.

The men were interrogated by police on the ship the morning Smith went missing, according to Jones. Smith had been hanging out with these men at the casino and then at the ship's disco the night before and into the wee hours of the morning, the lawyer said.

James Walker, a maritime attorney who represented Smith's wife when she sued Royal Caribbean in 2006 for the wrongful death of her husband, believes a crime did occur. Walker said he took a forensic specialist on board the ship during his investigation into Smith's death in 2005.

"My only hope is that the FBI will make an arrest and there will be a prosecution because it's long overdue," Walker told CNN on Tuesday.

CNN's Mary Snow and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.

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