WETUMPKA, Ala. (AP) — LaKeith Smith was 15 when a police officer shot and killed his friend when the boys were caught burglarizing homes in Alabama, but it’s Smith who will spend decades in prison for his friend’s death.
A judge on Tuesday sentenced Smith, now 24, to 30 years in prison — a reduction from the more than 50 years he originally received, but a major blow to his family and his supporters who argued he shouldn’t have spend decades in prison for a murder he committed not committing.
The re-sentencing hearing was held after a judge ruled that Smith’s original attorney failed to present possible extenuating evidence about his family life and mental health.
Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds issued the new ruling after a lengthy court hearing. Sibley gave Smith the same punishment he had meted out previously—30 years for felony murder charges and 25 years for burglary and theft—but this time he allowed the sentences to run concurrently, instead of being stacked. on top of each other.
“What he received today was not justice. It was clearly an excessive sentence,” defense attorney Leroy Maxwell said after the court. He said they will pursue an appeal.
Maxwell said the case, which has garnered national attention due to Smith’s age and the conviction he received, is the “manifest child” for the misuse of felony homicide laws that allow someone to be charged with a murder while committing a crime even if the death was unintentional.
The fatal shooting occurred on February 23, 2015, when Millbrook Police officers responded to a burglary call in progress. A Millbrook police officer shot and killed 16-year-old A’Donte Washington when officers surprised the boys, local news reported. A grand jury cleared the officer of the shooting. The four surviving teenagers were charged with felony murder. Three took plea deals and Smith went to trial.
The Elmore County courtroom, which is across the highway from a state prison, erupted in cries of anger after the judge handed down the sentence, attorneys and others said.
“He’s not a killer. He doesn’t deserve 55 or 30,” Smith’s mother, Brontina Smith, said after the court.
Maxwell argued that LaKeith Smith was the least guilty of the teenagers because he was the youngest and there was no evidence that he had fired a gun.
The judge heard testimony about Smith’s difficult home life, as well as a request from Washington’s father that Smith be freed.
“They were kids, just kids. I won’t condone them going to someone’s house and whatnot. Give them time for that. But the murder of my son? No,” Andre Washington said after the court.
District Attorney CJ Robinson, who was the prosecutor in the case before being elected district attorney, said the sentence was within permissible guidelines.
“There are no winners here. I’ve never been (in) this case,” Robinson said over text after the court. He supported the re-sentencing hearing for Smith, agreeing that the attorney from Smith’s original trial did an inadequate job during the sentencing .
“I wish I could have heard LaKeith stand up and acknowledge that he made a series of choices that led to his friend’s death. Maybe it did to him, but I’m not sure if the message was conveyed in court,” Robinson wrote.
The case exposed the state’s felony homicide law, a legal doctrine that holds someone liable for homicide if they participate in a crime, such as robbery, that results in someone’s death. Most states have felony homicide laws, but the rules vary based on their use. According to a 2022 report by the Sentencing Project, a group that campaigns against mass incarceration, 14 states allow people involved in a crime to be convicted of felony homicide for a third-party homicide if it can be characterized as a foreseeable outcome. of their action.