Melvin "Roc" Smith faced justice Thursday, but he would not face the victims of his crime.
Smith, 28, refused to be present for his sentencing hearing in the shooting death of former girlfriend Tranice Richardson, 33.
In front of her 8-year-old son, Richardson, a mother of four, was gunned down in broad daylight July 8, 2011, outside her Orchard Terrace apartment.
Richardson's family and friends, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a black-and- white photo of her, filled many of the open seats in Judge Theresa M. Adams' courtroom Thursday. Defense attorneys, prosecutors and others in the law enforcement community filled every other spot, including the jury box and a bailiff's seat at the front of the room.
Adams asked Smith at the start of the hearing why he wanted to waive his constitutional right to be there.
"I don't have to tell you why -- I just don't want to," said Smith, flanked by two attorneys.
Several minutes and questions from Adams later, correctional officers and sheriff's deputies led Smith from the courtroom to a holding cell.
"He's a coward. He should have come out to see what real love is about," Shamair Brison, Richardson's sister, said later.
In the hourlong hearing that followed, prosecutor Kelly A. Bruton rattled off Smith's criminal record and documented the last moments of Richardson's life.
The testimony was at times graphic and heart-wrenching, punctuated by the sighs and cries of the crowd.
Adams ultimately sentenced Smith to life in prison without the possibility of parole and an additional 40 years on charges of murder, assault, stalking and handgun crimes.
"It is the only sentence the court believes will protect this community," Adams said. "This community would be in grave danger were he ever released on parole."
A heinous crime
Bruton said the details of Richardson's murder were some of the most troubling she has ever heard.
She recounted the final days of Richardson's life:
Richardson told Smith she was breaking up with him.
In the four days before her death, he called her 1,443 times. He watched where she was going. He sent ominous text messages with statements such as "It's on." He told others he would kill her.
As she walked outside her home with her son Keanan at about 7 p.m., Smith ran at her, wielding a gun.
Richardson yelled for her son to run. She ran the opposite way, possibly to protect him.
Smith began firing.
Two shots hit Richardson's arm.
As she scrambled up a hill, he shot her again, in the back, severing her spinal cord.
Though she was now paralyzed from the waist down, Richardson continued to plead for help and tried to drag herself away.
Smith circled her as she struggled and then fired four more times at point- blank range as Keanan and neighbors watched in horror.
Richardson was in pain and pleaded for her life until one of the shots hit her brain stem, killing her.
"What kind of person does that?" Bruton asked. "Somebody, I think, who is truly evil."
Bruton urged Adams to give Smith the maximum sentence for what she called a heinous act -- and Smith's history of violence.
He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in connection with the May 2000 slaying of Cedric Brinkley, a Baltimore man who had shot and killed Smith's cousin Welmon Nash at the John Hanson Apartments in Frederick. Smith was 16 at the time of the shooting. He had been in prison, on parole or on probation ever since. He was released from prison for the final time 79 days before he shot Richardson.
Several people in the courtroom were moved to tears when Richardson's children testified.
"My mom was my life, and he took her away from me," son Kwandell said.
Kwandell's sister, Kaylah, read a statement from a sheet of paper. She called Smith ignorant and self-absorbed, but noted that he hadn't always been a bad person.
Still, he took the only person Kaylah felt loved her unconditionally and was always there for her.
"Some days I wake up and feel like my mom should be there -- and she's not," Kaylah said.
When the hearing ended, Adams commended the children.
"I am overwhelmed with how remarkable Tranice's children are. She raised such good children," Adams said.
"I know your mother is proud," she told Kaylah.
Refusal to appear
Smith's request to waive his appearance at the sentencing was a first for Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith.
"This was new ground for us," he said.
Bruton argued against the waiver and asked Adams to require Melvin Smith to listen to victim impact statements and publicly accept his sentence.
She argued that waiving his appearance kept him from public accountability and was not fair to the victims who came to be heard.
"He's here. There's no reason he can't be brought out," Bruton said, adding that Smith should "stop being a coward."
Her remarks drew a small cheer of approval from the crowd and an objection from Smith's lawyers.
Matthew J. Frawley and Stephen Musselman, the defense attorneys, said it was Smith's right not to appear and he had given them permission to speak on his behalf.
In Smith's eyes, leaving court was a way to show that "he does have some humanity" and did not want to offend the court or Richardson's family, Musselman said.
Thursday was not the first time Smith refused to take part in the judicial process.
During a pre-sentencing investigation, which is required for sentences of life without parole, Smith refused to answer questions and would not sign a waiver for the investigator to run a background check needed for the report.
"Mr. Smith is doing everything he can possibly do to thwart the administration of justice in this case," Bruton said.
Adams ruled that the bare pre-sentencing report was enough to move forward with sentencing. Smith's attorneys objected.
Musselman later said he planned to file an appeal Thursday, but would not elaborate on what grounds.
Charlie Smith said Thursday's question -- whether a defendant can be compelled, against his will, to sit at his sentencing hearing -- may have been a case of first impression in Maryland.
While his office was hoping the judge would rule in their favor and create new case law, he may pursue a change in state law through the General Assembly.
"Victims' rights seem to be less than defendants' rights at times -- and I think there's something wrong with that," Smith said. "We were hoping to make some good law there for victims in Maryland."
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