Bail set for man to be retried in 2000 killing

Smith won't be allowed to go to Anchorage to live with his fiancé

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2005

Four years after Ronald Smith was sentenced to serve 85 years for a Juneau murder, he can get out of jail for at least a few months by posting $250,000 in cash.

But Smith won't be allowed to go to Anchorage to live with his fiancé, as his attorney had requested, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks ruled Wednesday.

The Alaska Court of Appeals reversed Smith's previous conviction because a witness was improperly allowed to include hearsay in her testimony. Last week Weeks scheduled a new trial for Smith to begin May 16.

Smith, now 38, was convicted of second-degree murder in December 2000 in the downtown Juneau beating death of Kenneth Ike Thomas 11 months earlier. The jury also convicted him of first-degree assault of a second man and first-degree robbery.

In December 2003, the Alaska Court of Appeals overturned the conviction. Smith's co-defendant, Rey Joel Soto, now 25, was not part of the appeal. Weeks suspended 40 years of Soto's 85-year sentence.

Until Wednesday, Smith was being held without bail.

Smith's court-appointed attorney, Kirsten Swanson, proposed setting bail at $10,000 and allowing Smith to live with a woman in Anchorage who would watch him to assure he would appear for trial and follow conditions of his release.

Sworn in to testify via telephone, 38-year-old Brandy Alexander, who lives with her retired parents on the east side of Anchorage, said she was willing to comply with the court requirements of watching Smith.

Under cross-examination from Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen, she said she would call Anchorage police if Smith left her custody.

"I don't think Ron would put me in that position," she said. "He is very serious about going to trial."

Alexander said she met Smith about two years ago when she was visiting the Spring Valley Correctional Center in Seward. Her mother is a member of the prison ministry, she said.

Gullufsen asked if she and Smith planned to get married.

"Yes, sir, we do," she said. "We've gotten to know each other quite well, and we've got those plans."

Gullufsen said he was concerned with public safety, noting Smith had several felony convictions in New York before coming to Alaska.

"Mr. Smith has demonstrated he is a substantial risk to the public," Gullufsen said. He asked for bail to be set at $500,000.

Weeks set it at half that. He said if Smith does post bail, he would not be allowed to leave Juneau.

On the question of Smith's finances, Weeks said he qualified to be represented by a court-appointed attorney.

Weeks also said he was familiar with testimony to the grand jury and considered the trial evidence, even with the exclusion of testimony the appeals court said should not have been allowed.

The appeals court found that Weeks was incorrect in finding an exception to a rule against most hearsay testimony. Zachary Brown invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify. Caroline Gerken was permitted to testify that Brown said he had given a shotgun to Smith and Soto before the robbery and later cleaned blood from it.

Appellate judges found Gerken's testimony should not have been allowed because they determined Brown would not have violated his self-interest by testifying.

Weeks on Wednesday called the crime "a particularly brutal" one that put others at risk.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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