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Demetrius Smith freed after Innocence Project prompts review of shooting case

May 3, 2013
By

As his sister Cheyenne Ward looked on, Demetrius Smith was set free today by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams.

The move came at a sentence reconsideration hearing. Smith, about five years into a 10-year sentence for assault, was re-sentenced to time served with three years of supervised probation.

In February of 2011 Smith pleaded guilty to shooting Clyde Hendricks, a neighbor of his in southwest Baltimore, in an early morning robbery in the fall of 2008. At the time of the shooting, Smith was on bail after being charged with the execution-style murder of Robert Long, who was a state’s witness in a series of theft cases against another man, Jose Morales.

Smith, now 30 years old, was held without bail after the Hendricks shooting.  Eventually he was convicted of both crimes, first receiving life in prison for the murder and later agreeing to plead guilty to the shooting if the sentence would run concurrently.

“He protested his innocence,” says Antonio Gioia, chief of the Conviction integrity Unit of the States Attorney’s Office. “Ms. [Michele] Nethercott asked me to take a look.”

Nethercott, who heads up the Innocence Project at the University of Baltimore Law School, took over the case from Nancy Forster after a reinvestigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office cast doubt on the murder conviction: Morales, reportedly, had confessed to hiring another man to kill Long. He was charged federally for that crime last fall, and the murder case against Smith was quietly dropped.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, I don’t believe he did this crime either,” Nethercott says. “I’m in the process of reinvestigating it. But my client had been in jail for years so the objective was to get him out of maximum security prison.”

Smith’s guilty plea in the other shooting had kept him locked up until today. Gioia says information he got from Nethercott included “information about the detective” who charged Smith in the shooting. “But not about the character of the detective,” Gioia adds in a short interview in the court hallway after the resentencing.

The detective was Charles Bealefeld, brother of then-Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld. He left the force in 2008 to take a job with another police agency.

As Ward and other Smith supporters approach, Gioia says, “I’m not going to say that I think he didn’t do it.”  Smith would have been eligible for parole “reasonably soon” even without the sentence modification.

Ward thanks him anyway.

“You see, it all comes out in the end,” says George Smith, Demetrius’s father, in a phone interview an hour later. “Sometimes the system works. Other times you don’t have no choice but to work with the system. He shouldn’t have been locked up for that. I’m just glad that it’s over.”