Man found guilty in bank robbery trial
NATCHEZ — The second trial of the Adams County man accused of shooting a deputy shortly after robbing a bank ended differently Wednesday than the first — with a unanimous guilty verdict.
After the verdict was returned, Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson sentenced Kendrick Smith, 25, to 70 years in prison. The sentence was composed of two separate sentences, 40 years for armed robbery and 30 years for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, with the two sentences to be served consecutively.
Smith was on trial for the June 24, 2011, robbery of United Mississippi Bank on U.S. 61 South and the subsequent shooting of Adams County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Buddy Frank — who was by coincidence in the area that day — as Smith made his getaway.
Smith was found “not guilty” in November of three other counts of aggravated assaults for allegedly shooting at bank tellers and an employee of a nearby business during the robbery and frantic rush from the scene, but the jury at that time could not come to a conclusion on the robbery and law enforcement assault charges. Those two counts ended in mistrial, and this week’s hearings are the state’s remedy to that conclusion.
The jury returned its verdict Wednesday after one hour and 39 minutes of deliberation.
Previous testimony told a story of a man wearing a bandanna as a mask, a hat and yellow gloves robbing UMB, only to run into three sheriff’s deputies outside, exchanging gunfire with the deputies — hitting and being hit by Frank — before running out of sight. Smith was found in a gully in the area a short time later with a gunshot wound to his left side.
Smith himself took the stand Wednesday — despite the protestations of his counsel that he should not do so — to tell the court he was the unfortunate victim of circumstances. Smith said he had been sitting in a car at Plantation Manor apartments when a man called him to behind the building saying he needed help. Instead, he found two men, who beat him, stole his clothes and shot him.
During a break in the proceedings, Smith said he was the victim of a conspiracy seeking a conviction.
“I am being railroaded,” he said.
On the stand, the defendant said that when Sheriff Chuck Mayfield and Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey found him in a nearby ditch shortly after the robbery and shooting, it was because he had become disoriented after fleeing the men who had attacked him.
“Every foot touching the ground is pain,” he said. “I didn’t have no direction of where I am going, I am just going, going, going. I didn’t try to just jump in no ditch. I was just out of it. It wasn’t purposely done.”
Smith also said that — while he told that same story to police investigators that he told the court Wednesday — his initial statements were given to police after having been given a narcotic painkiller for his wounds.
Detective Otis Mazique testified Wednesday that Smith confessed to the bank robbery, though no recording or written statement of the confession existed, and that Smith had refused to make a written statement after confessing to the crime. Smith maintained he was never given a chance to make a written statement.
“Mazique said, ‘We are going to let you write this tomorrow,’ and they walked me out of there because I couldn’t stay awake (because of the drugs),” Smith said. “He never came back. I would have written one.”
Mississippi Crime Lab Forensic Biologist Leslia Davis testified that blood found on three items collected from the area — a bandanna, a hat and a yellow glove — matched Smith’s DNA profile.
“Based on the statistical formula that was applied, this (DNA) profile would only occur with a frequency greater than one in 10 billion times, and given that the world population is only seven billion, it is unlikely it will be anyone other than him or his twin if he has one,” Davis said.
A .22-caliber handgun found in the area did not have enough DNA to build a profile that could be matched to Smith, Davis said.
When District Attorney Ronnie Harper asked Smith how his blood got on those items — which were found in different areas away from Plantation Manor apartments — Smith said he did not know how those items ended up in different places. His blood got on them during the beating, he said.
“That stuff was on the side of the fence with me, I saw it,” he said. “I was getting rapped; I was bleeding.”
Smith’s attorney, Jeffery Harness also asked Davis if it was possible that the evidence could have been cross contaminated with Smith’s DNA by being sat upon the same witness stand that Smith took during his first trial.
“It is not likely that any cells that may be on this desk could (have done that),” Davis said. “I can say based on scientific degree of certainty that it is not likely.
One piece of evidence, a $2 bill with blood on it collected near the bank, was not allowed to be entered into the record for the jury to consider. Harness objected on the grounds that the defense team had not received a copy of the DNA report on the $2 bill when other reports were sent to them.
Harper said he did not know if the defense had received the report, but had prior knowledge that the money had been tested and matched. But Harness said the report should have been provided, and asked for a mistrial. When Johnson asked why allowing the money to be used would be more prejudicial against the defendant than the yellow gloves, Harness said it was a Constitutional violation of his client’s rights.
“My client has not been provided his Constitutional rights of all the evidence being used against him,” Harness said. “The gloves and hat are kind of circumstantial. It is my opinion that the bill is direct evidence that came from the crime scene.”
Smith also appealed to the jury to consider his gunshot wound. Lifting up his shirt, he told them that the scar on the front was an exit wound, and the deputies had previously testified Frank had shot the robber in the chest.
Gesturing at the angle of scars, Smith said, “Even my doctor said that if I had been shot from the front, they would have had to be standing over me.”
Even before taking the stand, Smith had an emotional moment from the floor of the courtroom, raising his voice in protest when he was told a certain defense witness who could testify about the administration of medicine in the jail could not be subpoenaed.
“I need a fair trial,” he said. “I have been locked up for two years — everyone has had ample time.”
During closing arguments, defense attorney Shemeca Collins reminded jurors that none of the witnesses could identify Smith as the bank robber or shooter, and that no one knew what happened between the deputies losing sight and officers finding Smith. Harness likewise told jurors they should only convict on evidence, not inference.
But Harper told jurors he didn’t think those objections were enough to overwhelm the evidence.
“Basically, they caught him at the scene of the crime,” Harper said. “They say no one saw his face — are you saying that just because you rob a bank and you have a mask on, you get off?”
Harper also appealed to the DNA evidence, saying, “They have his blood over all this stuff — they may not have been able to see his face, but they saw this.”
The district attorney likewise told jurors Smith’s testimony took the tone of a conspiracy.
“Do you think Buddy Frank doesn’t want to get the guy who shot him in the leg, that he just wants to frame somebody and make some stuff up?” Harper said.
“(Smith’s) story is not only unreasonable, but it is incredible — not only is that the biggest stroke of bad luck I have heard in my life, but it is a conspiracy because it says everybody lied.”
After the jury returned the guilty verdict, Smith thanked the court for an opportunity to have a trial and share his side of the story.
“I just want everyone to know, no hard feelings, I still love everyone,” he said.
When Johnson handed down the consecutive sentences, he did so, he said, because the crime of the bank robbery was already completed when Smith shot Frank.
“You are lucky to be alive,” Johnson said. “You run that little scenario out there again, and nine times out of 10, your life is going to end on the pavement right then.”
The judge also said that while he would like to grant some degree of mercy, based on his observations of the defendant’s demeanor during the trial he could not find a reason to do so.
“It strikes me that you have no remorse for your crime,” Johnson said. “There is no contrition; you have a total disregard for what you have done, for the people you have shot at, the deputy you shot. I can’t find anything to cut you some slack on this.”
The final jury was composed of four black women, three white women, two black men and three white men. One juror — a white man — was excused midway through the trial for procedural reasons and was replaced by an alternate, a white woman.