This 18-year-old was given 65 years for murder even though he never fired the fatal shot
Lakeith Smith, 18, was part of a group responsible for the burglaries of two houses in Milbrook, Alabama. There were five other men who assisted in the 2015 crimes, and one of them - 16-year-old A'Donte Washington - was shot and killed by a police officer. Despite the fact it was someone else who shot Washington, it was Smith who was charged with murder.
Body-cam footage from the incident, which occurred on 23 February 2015, showed officers responding to reports of a burglary in process. The group, including Washington, fired shots at the police. Apparently, Washington charged towards one officer, who fired four shots and killed the teenager on the spot.
Smith was tried as adult under the state's accomplice liability laws, despite being 15 at the time of the crimes. Due to these laws, Smith was held "criminally responsible for the acts that led to Washington's Death", according to USA Today.
Last Thursday, Judge Sibley Reynolds of Alabama's 19th Judicial Circuit Court passed down sentences of 30 years for murder, 15 for burglary and two 10-year sentences for theft, which he will serve back-to-back. The officer was cleared by a grand jury, while his identity has been remained unrevealed.
Jennifer Holton, who represented Smith, told the court:
"The officer shot A'Donte, not Lakeith Smith. Lakeith was a 15-year-old child, scared to death. He did not participate in the act that caused the death of A'Donte. He never shot anybody."
"It's sad in my opinion. The cause of death was the officer's action."
However, chief assistant district attorney C.J. Robinson was more positive about the decision made. The teenager was reported to smile and laugh when he was given the sentences, possibly due to disbelief at being found guilty of the murder charge. "I don't think Mr. Smith will be smiling long when he gets to prison," Robinson remarked.
"We are very pleased with this sentence. 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," he added.
Alabama's accomplice law states that a person can be legally liable for the criminal behavior of another person, if that that person aids or abets the first in committing a crime. Felony-murder is a fairly rare concept outside of the United States. Many states in the US have these laws that expand the definition of murder to include unintentional killings in the course of committing felonies, but this is a more extreme example.
Scott Lemieux, a lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Washington, said that a key difference in this case is that Smith went to trial rather than taking the offer of a 25-year plea. "These really long sentences are used to put pressure on people to plead," he told the BBC. "The risk of going to trial is so extreme."
Andre Washington, the father of the 16-year-old boy who was killed, attended the trial to show Smith he was on his side, even if he was technically being tried for his son's murder. "I went there to show him and his family some support. What the officers did - it was totally wrong," Washington said. "I don't feel [Smith] deserves that. No. Not at all."
Three other defendants have all entered guilty pleas and are currently awaiting sentencing.