Even behind bars, gang members Wade McCommons Jr. and Derrick Smith can’t seem to keep their criminal cases from intersecting.
Both Schenectady men appealed convictions they received in Schenectady County Court several years ago. And both had their lengthy prison sentences upheld by justices with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in rulings handed down Thursday.
Smith, now serving a stint of up to 20 years in prison for the 2010 shooting death of Michael DeVeaux Jr. outside the El Dorado bar, argued that his sentence was unduly harsh under the terms of a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors in 2012. He claimed the sentencing judge erred in handing him the “maximum allowable term” under the agreement after considering “unreliable and inaccurate information” about his conduct after the plea.
Smith, while awaiting sentencing, hatched a plot with McCommons in Schenectady County Jail in which they aimed to orchestrate the killing of two witnesses willing to testify in McCommons’ case. McCommons gave Smith — a fellow member of the Nine Trey Gangster set of the Bloods — pages from his confidential witness list and Smith managed to mail at least some of the court papers to people on the outside.
At the time, McCommons was being held without bail having been accused of killing 41-year-old Laurel Teer during a botched robbery at the Eastern Avenue Deli & Grocery in 2009. The complicated case against McCommons involved matching his likeness from a surveillance video from the store with eyewitness descriptions and DNA evidence taken from a different strong-arm robbery at a home that occurred before the shooting.
Investigators at the jail and in the District Attorney’s Office, however, caught the plot against witnesses before anyone was endangered. Smith ultimately admitted to his involvement in the tampering — a guilty plea that tacked an additional 10 years onto his 20-year sentence for killing DeVeaux.
The appeals court was left unpersuaded by Smith’s argument, especially since he waived his right to appeal. They ruled the lower court judge hadn’t violated the terms of the agreement by considering the foiled plot during sentencing.
Ironically, the justices also unanimously rejected McCommons’ appeal to overturn his plea of guilty to an assault charge that arose while he was jailed in Schenectady awaiting trial for killing Teer. In that case McCommons was being lodged at the county jail’s special housing unit in December 2010 when he convinced its three other inmates to stage acts of defiance against the corrections officers.
Under his urging, the inmates stopped up their toilets, tied their cell doors together and placed mattresses up against the bars. When the officers came in to subdue the inmates, McCommons fought back, causing a knee injury to one officer while another suffered a shoulder injury after slipping on the wet cell floor.
McCommons was handed a three-year sentence to run concurrently to his 45-years-to-life term. He argued that the lower court erred by not allowing him to introduce witnesses on his behalf.
Again, the appeals judges were not convinced.