Back in April, 18-year-old Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of 16-year-old A’Donte Washington — who was killed by police in 2015.
As noted by theguardian.com, even though it was an officer’s bullet that killed Washington, and Smith didn’t even possess a weapon, under Alabama’s accomplice law, co-defendants can be guilty of murder if a death occurs when they are committing a felony.
According to multiple reports, Smith was one of five teens who broke into two homes in Millbrook on Feb. 23, 2015. Police officers responded to a call of a burglary in progress, when one of the co-defendants began shooting them, responding officers opened fire, killing Washington.
Smith was also sentenced to another 35 years for crimes related to the burglary, for a total of 65 years.
“Because the sentences are consecutive, it will be a long time before he comes up for even the possibility for parole, at least 20 to 25 years,” prosecutor CJ Robinson said. “We are very pleased with this sentence.”
Smith was the only one of the four surviving co-defendants to decline a plea deal that would have had him serve only 25 years.
“This is certainly an uncommon case,” said Jeree Thomas, the policy director of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYG). “The defendant’s accomplice wasn’t even involved in the killing, it was a totally third-party, but they prosecuted him anyway.”
Marcy Mistreet, the CFYG chief executive, added: “It just speaks to the excessive power that prosecutors have in our system to even seek these kinds of charges.”
All but four states have some form of the accomplice liability law that Smith was charged under, which calls for individuals who commit a felony that ends in a death to be charged with murder even if the person killed is their own accomplice, the report states.
“If you have three people run into a bank and they have guns, and there’s a shooting, it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger,” said Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “If you storm a bank with guns, you know it’s highly likely somebody is going to get killed and you’re still responsible for it.”
Jennifer Holton, Smith’s lawyer, said in closing statements: “The law reads that you have to be a participant in the crime to be guilty. It is a tragedy that a young kid was killed. It will be an injustice if you hold Lakeith responsible.”
Jurors reportedly took less than 90 minutes to hand down a guilty verdict.