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A jury of seven men and five women returned a verdict of guilty on all counts Friday afternoon in the murder trial of Ronald E. Smith and Rey Joel Soto.
Smith and Soto were charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of Kenneth Ike Thomas, 36; with second-degree robbery; and with first-degree assault in the beating of Alfred Torres, 27.
Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. Feb. 15. The murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 99 years. The other two charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison each.
"It was a long trial and it was emotional for everyone," said Weeks. "I felt the lawyers did a good job. The jury had all the facts and made the decision."
Ray Joel Soto
MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean credited the Juneau Police Department for an "outstanding job" in apprehending the suspects within seven minutes of receiving an incident call around 5 a.m. last Jan. 25.
"The reason we were able to prosecute this case is because the Juneau police responded quickly and intelligently," said McLean. "Had they not, we might never have been able to find the people who did this."
The prosecution succeeded in perdsuading jurors that Thomas was beaten during a robbery near and/or in his trailer home on Village Street. Smith and Soto admitted they were at the scene. Defense attorneys Darrel Gardner and Michael O'Brien argued that there was no robbery, that the incident was a marijuana deal that spun out of control and neither Smith nor Soto inflicted the wounds that killed Thomas.
McLean argued that evidence found inside the car when Smith and Soto were arrested linked them to the fatal attack. The evidence included marijuana, a ski mask and a bloody baseball bat.
O'Brien, attorney for Soto, said the defense had been undermined "to a degree" by the marijuana found in a ski mask that police seized from the back of a car driven by Smith. The marijuana was not mentioned in police reports.
"It was a shock to all of us, and the only piece of evidence that linked our clients to the ski masks there being no forensic evidence, no hair or blood, linking them to those masks. It was difficult for us to swallow that the judge (Weeks) let it in," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said he had spoken to Smith's defense attorney, Darrel Gardner, before Gardner left for his home in Anchorage, and Gardner indicated Smith would appeal the verdict. O'Brien said he had not had a chance to speak to Soto about an appeal, but one is certainly possible after sentencing.
Probation officers will pull together a pre-sentencing report that makes recommendations about sentences for the two defendants, Weeks said.
"We are nervous; we are hurting," said Thomas' sister, Karen Jim, early in the proceedings. "We just hope and pray that they get the maximum."