Nationwide anti-racism protests have sparked renewed outcry over the 55-year prison sentence an Alabama teen received after he was convicted under the state’s accomplice liability law in the death of his friend, who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2015.
Lakeith Smith was 15 years old when he and four friends broke into two homes and were confronted by police in Millbrook, Alabama, a small city about 10 miles north of Montgomery.
One of Smith’s accomplices, 16-year-old A’Donte Washington, exchanged gunfire with an officer, body camera footage showed. The officer, whose identity has not been released publicly, subsequently shot and killed Washington. A grand jury cleared the officer in 2016 of any wrongdoing, calling the fatal shooting justified.
During a two-day trial in 2018, a jury convicted Smith of two counts of theft, burglary and felony murder under Alabama’s accomplice liability law.
The law says a person can be guilty of murder if a death occurs when they are committing a crime, even if the person is not the one who directly caused the death, according to The Montgomery Adviser. Most states have similar laws.
Though Smith was a minor when the shooting occurred, prosecutors tried him as an adult. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison ― 30 years for the felony murder, 15 years for burglary and 10 years for each of the theft charges. His sentence was reduced to 55 years in November, when a judge ruled that one of the 10-year sentences could run concurrently with the 15-year sentence.
“The officer shot A’donte, not Lakeith Smith,” defense attorney Jennifer Holton said during Smith’s trial. “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.”
The other defendants — Jadarien Hardy, Jhavarske Jackson and La’Anthony Washington — accepted plea agreements. Smith declined a plea deal that would have sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Two years later, as protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sweep the country, activists are refocusing on Smith’s case.
A Change.org petition demanding justice for Smith and Washington had garnered over 430,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
“Despite Lakeith not participating in the shoot-out at all, under Alabama’s accomplice liability law, SMITH WAS FOUND LIABLE FOR THE DEATH OF HIS FRIEND,” YouTube star Nash Grier tweeted Saturday. “He was tried as an adult and was sentenced to 65 years in prison. OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM IS BEYOND BROKEN.”
“This is disgusting and morally wrong! How does the cop get to go unnamed and this CHILD who did not even pull the trigger, get sentenced?!” one signatory of the petition wrote. “I am disgusted...”
Smith’s attorney did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
In March, Alabama executed Nathaniel Woods, a Black man who was convicted under the accomplice law in the 2004 killings of three police officers who were shot to death by another man.