Lakeith Smith is serving 30 years in prison in the death of a friend killed by police during a burglary. What happens now that a judge has shaved off 25 years from his 55-year sentence?What you need to know about the case and what’s next, in a 90-second read.
What happened in the February 2015 incident?
Smith was 15 when he and four other juveniles from Montgomery broke into two houses on a weekday in Millbrook. The occupants were not home. At the second house, Millbrook police responded. According to testimony at trial, shots were fired at responding officers from inside the home.
A’Donte Washington, 16, was shot and killed by a Millbrook officer. The officer’s body camera footage was played at Smith’s trial and showed Washington run out of the gate of a wooden fence surrounding the backyard of the home, toward the officer. The footage showed Washington was armed with a revolver. The officer fired several times, striking Washington, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
An Elmore County Grand Jury cleared the officer, whose named was never released. He was not charged in connection with Washington’s death.
Smith was offered a 25-year sentence as part of a plea bargain, but chose to go to trial. His case has received national and international media attention due to the stiff sentence and his age when the crimes first occurred.
The trial: Smith is convicted
Testimony did not establish that Smith, now 23, was armed during the incident. He was convicted in 2018 of felony murder, burglary and two counts of theft of property charges.
He has served eight years of his original sentence, given credit for time served in the Elmore County Jail after his arrest in 2015, when he was one month shy of 16. He will spend at least another seven years in prison before coming up for his first chance at parole.
Three of his co-defendants entered guilty pleas to felony murder, burglary and theft charges. Two, who were 16 at the time in 2015, each were given 17-year sentences and served 14 months. An 18-year-old co-defendant was given a 28-year sentence; he was armed at the time and had a previous felony conviction.
What state law says
Felony murder in Alabama has an accomplice element, where a defendant taking part in a felony can be charged with murder if the death occurs during the commission of the felony. Smith’s defense team holds he has served ample time in prison for his role in the crimes.
Alabama law holds that a person convicted of felony murder must spend 15 years or 85% of their sentence in prison, whichever comes first, before being considered for parole.
An appeal and resentencing
Retired Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds, who presided at the 2018 trial and original sentencing, handled the resentencing as well. He resentenced Smith to 30 years for the felony murder conviction, and ordered that he serve the time for the burglary and theft convictions concurrently, or at the same time.
At the hearing, held in Wetumpka, Washington’s father testified that he doesn’t hold Smith responsible for his son’s death, and bares no ill will toward him.
Leroy Maxwell Jr., one of Smith’s attorneys handling his case now, had this to say on a social media platform after the resentencing: “This is not justice.” Maxwell said he is dedicated to the effort to get Smith released from prison for time served. He also said the resentencing will be appealed and the team may seek a new trial.
Will Smith get a new trial?
It’s inside baseball, but the possibility of a new trial is iffy. Maxwell filed what’s called a Rule 32 motion to get the sentence reconsidered. The defense argued, successfully, that Smith’s original trial attorney was ineffective during the sentencing phase because she failed to present evidence that could have led to a shorter sentence.
Reynolds agreed with the defense that the evidence not presented could have swayed his decision in 2018, and ordered the resentencing hearing. District Attorney C.J. Robinson did not protest the resentencing, but balked at any new trial application.
Reynolds found the original trial attorney effective in the guilt phase of Smith’s conviction. That lessens the chance for a retrial. Smith’s convictions have been upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which also ruled that Reynolds acted improperly by giving Smith a total of 65 years after the conviction for making the sentences for felony murder, burglary and two theft convictions run consecutively.
The appeals court ruled that one of the theft convictions and the burglary conviction could not be served consecutively, and shaved 10 years off the sentences. The 55-year sentence is what was considered for resentencing.
Source: Marty Rooney