New life sen­tence for 1996 mur­der

Sa­muel Ed­ward Smith was given sen­tence as a ju­ve­nile

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

WEST CH­ESTER >> The man who as a teenager killed a friendly neigh­bor in or­der to steal his car was once again or­dered to serve a life sen­tence with­out pa­role on Wed­nes­day by a Com­mon Pleas Court judge, who called him an “un­com­mon and rare” crim­i­nal.

“The pub­lic will only be pro­tected by him be­ing in­car­cer­ated for the rest of his life,” said Judge James P. MacEl­ree II of Sa­muel Ed­ward Smith, as part of a hear­ing dic­tated by re­cent U.S. Supreme Court rul­ings con­cern­ing so-called “ju­ve­nile lif­ers.” Smith, the judge said, had “earned and con­tin­ues to earn” the life sen­tence.

The sen­tence came af­ter a twohour long pro­ceed­ings at which Smith apol­o­gized for his crime and spoke of how he was try­ing to bet­ter his life. “I wish I could have been a bet­ter per­son, and that would nul­lify what I did,” he said. “But I can­not make it right.”

Twenty years ago, he blud­geoned his neigh­bor, David Kenny, a re­tired teacher and pas-

tor. As he left the court­room in hand­cuffs and leg shack­les, Smith de­clined to com­ment on the new sen­tence. He will be re­turned to SCI Greene, the max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison for those con­victed of mur­der.

Kenny, who was 64 and an am­putee when he died, was at­tacked in his home by Smith on May 8, 1996. Ac­cord­ing to Smith’s con­fes­sion, he had de­cided to steal Kenny’s car to drive to Florida. But be­fore car­ry­ing out the plan, he de­cided he would have to kill Kenny be­cause, as neigh­bors in the West End of Coatesville, they knew one an­other and Kenny could iden­tify him.

Smith — at the time a petty ju­ve­nile of­fender — went into Kenny’s home with a pipe wrench, and struck him in the head 10 times, shat­ter­ing his skull. When Kenny re­mained con­scious — beg­ging to know, “Why are you do­ing this?” — he grabbed a butcher knife and cut his throat. He then struck Kenny as many as 15 more times un­til he stopped mov­ing.

He then took Kenny’s car keys and some cash from his pocket and drove away, pick­ing up his sis­ter for the trip to Florida. The pair were stopped af­ter a car crash in Del­a­ware and he con­fessed to at­tack­ing his neigh­bor.

Kenny died sev­eral days later on May 21, 1996, at the Brandy­wine Hospi­tal in Caln.

Af­ter his ar­rest, the county District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice an­nounced that it would seek the death penalty in the case. Smith, in or­der to es­cape the pos­si­bil­ity of a death sen­tence, pleaded guilty to first-de­gree mur­der in Oc­to­ber 1996 and was sen­tenced to the manda­tory life term. He was 16 years, 10 months, and 11 days old when he com­mit­ted the crime, and turned 17 while await­ing trial in Ch­ester County Prison.

In ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to im­pose a new life sen­tence on Smith, MacEl­ree went over de­tails of the crime as well as a recita­tion of Smith’s be­hav­ior while in prison over the past 20 years. Smith had formed a Neo-Nazi prison gang while in­car­cer­ated, had planned an es­cape, and had vowed not to be taken alive if his plot worked.

MacEl­ree also noted that Smith had been di­ag­nosed as suf­fer­ing from anti-so­cial per­son­al­ity dis­or­der, a con­di­tion he said psy­chol­o­gists for both the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense said was largely un­treat­able.

Of the prison es­cape plot, MacEl­ree noted that Smith “was fully and men­tally pre­pared to kill again” to avoid cap­ture. “I be­lieve he main­tains that state of mind. This de­fen­dant is in­deed un­com­mon and rare.”

That des­ig­na­tion as a unique crim­i­nal was nec­es­sary to meet the bur­den es­tab­lish in a re­cent de­ci­sion by the high court as to the con­di­tions un­der which a per­son who com­mit­ted a mur­der as a ju­ve­nile could be sen­tenced to serve a life term. In other in­stances, the court ruled, such a sen­tence would be con­sid­ered cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment and un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Three other Ch­ester County res­i­dents who com­mit­ted mur­ders as ju­ve­niles have been granted the right to re­quest pa­role, un­der terms laid out by the de­fense and pros­e­cu­tion and ap­proved by MacEl­ree. Smith is the only one of five “teen lif­ers” to thus far have a re-sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

In his ad­dress to the court, which lasted for 45 min­utes, Smith, now 36, spoke at length of his ex­pe­ri­ences in prison, his racism, his love of fam­ily, and his change to a Bi­ble-read­ing Chris­tian who strug­gles not to use swear words. He of­fered an apol­ogy to mem­bers of Kenny’s fam­ily who were in the court­room, as well as mem­ber of his own fam­ily who had come to see the pro­ceed­ing.

“I am so sorry for all the pain and loss for both fam­i­lies, his fam­ily and my fam­ily,” he said. “That is some­thing I live with ev­ery day. It is some­thing I strug­gle with and it is not go­ing to go away.”

He ad­mit­ted to be­ing part of a skin-head gang in the prison — “tough guys,” as he termed them — and of har­bor­ing ex­treme racial prej­u­dices. He also ac­knowl­edged the prison break plot, but tried to down­play it as jail­house talk that he owned up to when con­fronted by au­thor­i­ties.

“I wish I would not have taken the paths I’ve taken,” Smith said. “I don’t hate any­body. I am still a racist, I’m not say­ing I am not. But I am try­ing to change. I want to be a bet­ter per­son.”

District At­tor­ney Tom Ho­gan, who led the pros­e­cu­tion at the hear­ing which pro­ceed over three days in July and Oc­to­ber, said the “cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment” was not “what hap­pened to the de­fen­dant, but what hap­pened to David Kenny, the­atri­cally reen­act­ing the blud­geon­ing and throat cut­ting.”

Call­ing Smith ma­nip­u­la­tive and de­cep­tive, Ho­gan urged MacEl­ree to re-im­pose the life sen­tence be­cause of his psy­cho­pathic per­son­al­ity. “The de­fen­dant will break the rules when he feels like it,” he said. “He doesn’t care what any­one else thinks about it, His views as a white su­prem­a­cist are par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous as a threat to au­thor­i­ties, “par­tic­u­larly to law en­force­ment.”

“The de­fen­dant is vir­tu­ally one of a kind,” Ho­gan ar­gued. “This is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare crim­i­nal.”

Smith’s at­tor­ney, First As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Nathan Schenker, had ar­gued to MacEl­ree that although Smith was un­doubt­edly a mur­derer, he was not alone in the world of ju­ve­nile killers who suf­fer from psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. Although guilty of mis­deeds while in prison over the past two decades, Smith had not re­verted to vi­o­lence and had shown signs of ma­tur­ing while be­hind bars. He dis­missed Ho­gan’s ar­gu­ment that Smith was a “crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind” as “un­sup­ported by the facts and il­log­i­cal.”

He urged MacEl­ree to grant to Smith the op­por­tu­nity that had been given to the other teen lif­ers, “that a time might come when he might get pa­role.” As he grows older, Schenker said of his client, “his risk to so­ci­ety be­comes greatly re­duced. Mr. Smith has shown progress over the past 20 years.”

Smith can ap­peal the de­ci­sion to the state Su­pe­rior Court. MacEl­ree said he fully ex­pects such a course to be taken.

To con­tact staff writer Michael P. Rel­la­han call 610-696-1544.

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