Smith guilty

Posted: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Jurors took less than three hours Tuesday to find Ronald Smith guilty of murder for the second time in the January 2000 robbery that left Kenneth Ike Thomas dead.

Smith, 39, as well as a witness he was found guilty of beating, showed no emotion in Juneau Superior Court as the jury foreman read guilty verdicts on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree robbery.

The Alaska Court of Appeals overturned the first conviction in December 2003, finding testimony about a shotgun Smith allegedly carried was improperly admitted.

Assault victim Alfred Torres said after leaving court the ordeal of the second trial wasn't over. Judge Larry Weeks, who sentenced Smith to serve 85 years in prison after the first verdict, scheduled resentencing for Dec. 28.

"I feel more relaxed," said Torres, Thomas' brother. The physical pain from the assault is still there after more than five years, "and for the rest of my life," he said. He testified last week that he can no longer work in construction and he can dislocate his shoulder while turning a car's steering wheel.

"This is going to make it better," he said.

Torres said he has no doubt that it was Smith who pointed a shotgun in his face when he answered the door in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2000, at the downtown Village Street trailer where he was staying.

Although Rey Soto, already convicted in the crime, testified that he hit Thomas, 36, with a baseball bat, Weeks told jurors that the law considers all participants in a robbery guilty of murder when one of the robbery victims dies.

Soto dropped his appeal of his conviction with a plea agreement that got him 30 years in prison instead of the 45 years Weeks originally imposed.

Soto testified he brought the bat used in the crime and Smith stopped at a friend's house to pick up a shotgun. Smith provided ski masks that they put on before Smith knocked on the trailer door at about 4:30 a.m. and stuck a shotgun in Torres face.

Thomas died later after being flown to Anchorage. Soto said he and Smith left with about $30 and six grams of marijuana.

Testimony indicated ski masks, a baseball bat and the mug holding the marijuana stolen from the trailer were in the car Smith was driving when he was stopped shortly after 5 a.m. in the Mendenhall Valley. State crime lab tests showed DNA from blood on Smith's and Soto's clothing and the bat matched Thomas and Torres.

Smith didn't testify at his second trial for second-degree murder, but before jurors began deliberating Tuesday, the prosecutor told them they heard his "confession," referring to a poem that Smith wrote in jail and that jurors heard last week.

"He smashed and he bashed and he crashed a baseball bat in the head of Alfred Torres," Alaska Senior Attorney Richard Svobodny said during his closing arguments Tuesday morning, paraphrasing the poem.

The excerpt began with "faggots getting rich off the drug game" and referred to sticking people up and bashing like popular baseball sluggers of the time.

Defense attorney Kirsten Swanson objected to Svobodny's use of the word "confession" and referred to the poem as "lyrics" he wrote "while sitting in jail, an innocent man awaiting trial."

Swanson told jurors the evidence didn't add up to show there was a robbery.

She questioned the honesty of most of the witnesses. Soto, she said, has testified three different ways on the three occasions he's told his story in court. Torres, she said, had reasons to hide the truth because he was dealing drugs.

"What likely happened was Ron Smith and Rey Soto went downtown to buy drugs," she told the jury." She said they didn't find any drugs at Zachary Brown's apartment, where Soto and Brown testified they got the shotgun, but he directed them to the Village Street trailer where there was a disagreement over payment.

She said Torres then would have come out of the trailer with a baseball bat, and Smith, who lifts weights and has done some boxing, got the bat away from Torres and defended himself, before leaving with Torres and the bat.

"There was no shotgun," Swanson said. The shotgun presented at trial wasn't found for several days after it was hidden by one of the witnesses she said was lying, she added. The shotgun "was made up to cover up a drug deal gone bad."

She called two witnesses Monday who said they had heard Torres say it was "a drug deal gone bad."

Thomas' mother said it was only a matter of bad fortune that he was there that night. He had stayed the previous night at her home, Betty Torres said.

Her sister, Dora Barr, aunt to the two victims, said there was a lot of praying that went into the family's presence in the courtroom through the five trial days. "I asked God to come into court."

Betty Torres was sure the jury would come back with guilty verdicts, but it won't be over "till they sentence him. We'll get our relief then."

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