Much has been made of the fact that a black teenager laughed openly in court before being sentenced to 65 years in prison.
But the brutal truth of it is that this kid embodies the tragedy of criminal justice in America today, certainly no laughing matter to those destroyed by it.
In early March, Lakeith Smith, 18, was convicted of felony murder, burglary and theft for helping in the 2015 break-ins of two homes in Millbrook, Ala.
Smith was only 15 years old when he and a group of cohorts were confronted by police after being accused of breaking and entering.
His friend A’Donte Washington was killed by police that night, shot four times for allegedly brandishing a gun.
Yet under Alabama’s felony murder rule, a Class A felony, Smith was not only tried as an adult but also charged in A’Donte’s death, even though it was a cop’s bullet that ended the 16-year-old’s life.
A grand jury declined to prosecute the still-unnamed officers involved in the killing.
On Thursday, Judge Sibley Reynolds of Alabama’s 19th Circuit Court hit Smith with 30 years for murder, 15 years for burglary and 10 years each for two theft convictions, to be served consecutively.
USA Today reports that Smith did not take a plea offer of 25 years, and after losing at trial, he received the heavy penalty.
The prosecutor has made public comments that Smith smiled and laughed throughout the sentencing, and the judge seemed incensed that the teen didn’t seem appropriately sorry.
“I don’t think Mr. Smith will be smiling long when he gets to prison,” District Attorney C.J. Robinson said. “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.”
But Smith’s lawyer, Jennifer Holton, had another take.
“The officer shot A’Donte, not Lakeith Smith,” she countered. “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.”
Sometimes we wear the mask. Sometimes we laugh so as not to weep.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to clarify that Lakeith Smith was charged and convicted in A’Donte Washington’s death under Alabama’s felony murder rule, not its accomplice-accountability law.