Smith gets life in prison

Sentences for beating death, assault, robbery total 85 years

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2001

Convicted murderer Ronald E. Smith received a composite 85-year prison sentence from Judge Larry Weeks Thursday in Juneau Superior Court.

"I think that this is the correct sentence for someone who has prior felony sentences and who has had the opportunity not to commit more," assistant district attorney Sue McLean said this morning.

Smith, 34, was convicted in a December jury trial of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree robbery. He was given 50 years for the murder, 15 years on the assault and 20 years on the robbery. The sentences are to be served consecutively.

The murder charge resulted from the death of Kenneth Thomas, 36, who died as the result of a beating and depressed skull fracture received in a robbery on Jan. 25, 2000, near Willoughby Street. The assault charge derived from the beating of Alfred Torres, 27, Thomas' half-brother. Co-defendant in the case was Rey Joel Soto, who accompanied Smith to the trailer where Thomas lived in what the defendants claimed was a quest to purchase marijuana.

During the two-week trial, defense lawyers Darrel Gardner of Anchorage and Michael O'Brien painted the fatal altercation as a "drug-deal gone bad," while prosecutor McLean relied on forensic evidence, such as two ski masks and a bloody baseball bat found in the defendants' vehicle, to demonstrate that robbery had been the intent of the junket all along.

At the trial, McLean said Smith and Soto valued the life of Thomas "so little that they took it for less than $30 and six grams of marijuana."

Smith "was considerably older and should have been wiser than Rey Soto," said Soto's attorney, Michael O'Brien, today. "He had some felony convictions on his record previous, and that made his posture as a defendant being sentenced much worse than was my client, Rey Soto, who was only 20 years old (at the time of the crime) and had a completely clean record."

Soto was sentenced March 9 by Judge Weeks to a total of 45 years in jail.

Gardner could not be reached for comment.

Reporter Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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