Five teens broke into a pair of houses in Millbrook, Alabama, in February 2015 to steal from them, police say.
Lakeith Smith, then 17, and A’Donte Washington, 16, were two of those teenagers who aimed to burglarize the homes, police told AL.com. Officers say they went to check on a house and arrested one of the teens sitting in a stolen car out front with a gun.
Then the other four teens ran out of the house, police allege, before seeing the cops and running back inside. According to AL.com, the officers found themselves the target of gunfire when they chased after the teenagers.
As the two sides exchanged gunfire, police say, Washington took out his gun and charged at an unidentified police officer, who fired fatal shots at him. Bodycam footage the jury viewed in court showed the teen running with a revolver, according to WSFA.
The jury found someone guilty in Washington’s killing — but it wasn’t the officer. Instead, Smith faces 65 years in prison after a jury convicted him in March, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, and Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds this week gave him 30 years for felony murder, two 10-year sentences for theft convictions and 15 years for burglary.
Why is the teenager doing time when he didn’t pull the trigger and kill Washington? Alabama has an accomplice law that says someone can be held accountable for a murder — even if they didn’t commit it — if they were there and committing a crime with the deceased that led to the death.
The teen’s lawyer, Jennifer Holton, had argued in court that although her client isn’t perfect, he can’t be punished for Washington’s death.
“I told you, you won’t see a halo in here,” she said, according to WSFA. “They can put 50 or 100 witnesses in that box, they can’t get that he participated in the death of A’Donte.”
But since Smith went along with the thefts, police say, he is responsible for his friend’s death. Assistant District Attorney Kristy Peoples made that case before the jury, arguing that “an accomplice to the crime is just as guilty,” WSFA reported.
Smith had the opportunity to accept a plea deal that came with a recommended sentence of 25 years, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, but he turned it down and received 40 additional years. The three other surviving teens — La’Anthony Washington, 22, Jhavarske Jackson, 23 and Jadarien Hardy, 22 — pleaded guilty to the murder, theft and burglary charges but haven’t been sentenced.