Paula Rogo
Apr, 09, 2018

When 18-year-old Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 65 years in prison Friday, it was reported that he laughed in the judge’s face.

The Alabama teenager was convicted of killing his friend, even though he did not pull the trigger of the gun that killed A'Donte Washington. Instead, Smith's laugh was a reminder of the tragic nature of a case that is sending a young black man to jail — for the rest of his life — for a crime he did not commit.

In March, Smith was convicted as an adult of felony, murder and theft, for the 2015 break-in of two homes in Millbrook, Ala. The then-15-year old, alongside Washington and three other teens, were interrupted mid-robbery by police, and a shootout ensued. Washington was fatally shot during the incident.

But because of Alabama’s accomplice liability laws, Smith was accused of being criminally responsible for the acts that led to Washington's death. According to USA Today, the state’s accomplice law states that Smith “is legally liable for the behavior of another who commits a criminal offense if that person aids or abets the first person in committing the offense.” 

The officer who fired the fatal shots — his name has not been released— has been cleared of all wrongdoing. 

“The officer shot A'donte, not Lakeith Smith,” Smith's lawyer, Jennifer Holton, said during the trial. “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.”

However, Smith was still found culpable. When offered a plea deal of 25 years, he refused it. And so on Friday, Judge Sibley Reynolds handed down three back-to-back sentences: 30 years for murder, 15 years for burglary and 10 years each for two theft convictions.

Smith reportedly smiled after he was convicted in March, and laughed on Friday as the judge read his sentencing.

“I don’t think Mr. Smith will be smiling long when he gets to prison,” said C.J. Robinson, chief assistant district attorney. “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.”

According to the BBC, Andre Washington, A'Donte's father, sat with Smith's mother on the defense side.

“I went there to show him and his family some support. What the officers did — it was totally wrong,” says Washington. “I don't feel [Smith] deserves that. No. Not at all.”

The other three men charged all took guilty plea deals and still face sentencing.