The city man accused of executing another man outside of a Crane Street bar pleaded guilty mid-trial to a reduced charge.
Derrick C. Smith, 26, pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to one count of first-degree manslaughter, a reduction from the second-degree murder count he faced at trial.
Smith, formerly of Albany Street, now faces 15 to 20 years in state prison at his November sentencing.
While it’s less time than Smith would have faced had he been convicted on the murder charge, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney noted that it was more time than he had been offered prior to his trial. He declined to say how much Smith was offered then.
The time above the original plea bargain offer, Carney said, took into consideration the allegation that Smith tampered with a witness, causing her to flee in fear and refuse to testify.
The flight by the witness prompted a ruling from acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino prior to opening statements in the trial, allowing the prosecution the rarely granted right to use the grand jury testimony during trial.
Carney said without that ruling, he doesn’t believe Smith would have agreed to the plea deal at all.
“This was a steeper sentence than we had been discussing in plea negotiations last week,” Carney said. “But I would say we wouldn’t have gotten the plea but for Judge Giardino’s ruling. The attempt to intimidate a witness ultimately hurt [Smith] in his disposition.”
He also said there were other witnesses, which also might have persuaded Smith to take the offer.
Carney said Smith was offered the plea for a number of reasons, including problems with the case beyond the fleeing witness. Carney explained that while prosecutors believe Smith essentially executed Michael DeVeaux Jr. outside the El Dorado Bar, Smith was wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes, making identification difficult. He came out of the shadows, fired and fled.
Smith’s attorney, Mark Gaylord, called the offer one that was difficult for his client to refuse. Gaylord believes it’s within Smith’s reach to get the lower end of the sentence range, 15 years.
Gaylord attributed the plea deal to larger witness issues for the prosecution as a whole.
“I think that they had some witness issues, more so than the one that we knew about,” Gaylord said.
Gaylord also said that Giardino’s ruling in the missing witness issue helped prompt his client to consider all his options, including the plea deal.
DeVeaux, 21, was at the bar that night celebrating a graduation with friends and relatives. Smith and the man accused of shooting DeVeaux first, Charles B. Louvierre, encountered DeVeaux’s party at the bar, prosecutor Peter Willis told the jury in opening statements Tuesday.
Both “wanted to kill Michael DeVeaux,” Willis told the jury, though he never addressed why.
Willis said it was Louvierre who engineered an encounter with DeVeaux, bumping into him and getting into a brief argument. Louvierre pulled a gun and shot DeVeaux, Willis said, and then Smith came in and finished the job.
Part of the plea deal was an agreement by prosecutors not to pursue witness-tampering charges against Smith. Carney noted that a higher level of proof would be needed to pursue a criminal case than was needed to convince the judge to rule against Smith in the tampering matter.
Carney said DeVeaux’s family was on board with the plea agreement.
DeVeaux’s aunt, Janice Rouse-Brown, confirmed that Thursday.
“I think that overall, we have mixed feelings,” Rouse-Brown said. “We kind of gave it and put it in the hands of the Lord. There is some justice.
“He’s admitted what he did. We don’t know a reason why. We would like to know a reason why.”
Rouse-Brown commended prosecutors and detectives for what she said was a remarkable job. But she also noted the other issues.
“It’s difficult when you’re dealing with a community and people who don’t want to testify and are afraid to testify,” she said, “and individuals that are terrorizing inner-city communities.”
At the same time, Rouse-Brown said, it’s important to come forward.
“If we see something, we have to stand up,” she said. “We can’t allow them to keep terrorizing us in our own communities.”
Louvierre, 36, formerly of Barrett Street, now faces his own trial in the case. He had been expected to stand trial with Smith until the judge’s ruling in the witness issue. There was no proof that Louvierre participated in the alleged tampering, meaning the witness’ testimony couldn’t be used against him.
Louvierre’s attorney, Fred Rench, said he was unsure what, if any, effect Smith’s plea would have on his client’s case. Rench said he had yet to discuss the Smith plea with his client.
“I don’t know if it will or it won’t affect my case,” Rench said. “But I am hopeful that it will affect my case in a positive way.”
Wednesday’s plea also means Smith will no longer have to worry about jury duty. In an ironic twist, Smith’s name happened to come up in last week’s pool of perspective jurors in his own murder case. The felony plea now means he is ineligible from ever being called for jury duty again.
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