Half-brothers get 30 years combined for fatal feud at mall

Published 12:09am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

NATCHEZ — Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson warned remaining family members from the bench that “this mess is over” after he sentenced two half-brothers to a collective 30 years in prison for their role in a fatal blood feud that ended in a shooting at the Natchez mall.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Raymond Smith, left, listens to Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson as he hands down a 20-year sentence for Smith’s involvement in the 2011 shooting of Walter Washington.
Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Lee Raymond Smith, left, listens to Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson as he hands down a 20-year sentence for Smith’s involvement in the 2011 shooting of Walter Washington.

Latravis Clay, 25, and Lee Raymond Smith, 20, both pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the August 2011 shooting of Walter Washington, 25. Clay’s plea was entered in the court late Monday evening, while Smith’s was made shortly before his trial was scheduled to start Tuesday.

Both men were sentenced Tuesday morning.

Smith, the gunman in the killing, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with a requirement he serve 15 of those years behind bars and the last five on supervised release.

Clay was sentenced to 10 years for his part as the driver of the vehicle from which Smith fired at Washington as he walked to his car in the Natchez Mall parking lot.

Washington’s killing was reportedly in retaliation for an incident in which he allegedly shot a family member of Clay’s and Smith’s outside a local nightclub. Washington faced charges in court at the time of his death for the nightclub shooting.

Prior to sentencing, Washington’s family members declined to address the court, but had victim’s assistance coordinator Linda Futrell read a statement from them asking the judge to consider the maximum sentence.

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Latravis Clay, left, receives a 10-year sentence from Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson Tuesday morning. Clay pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Latravis Clay, left, receives a 10-year sentence from Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson Tuesday morning. Clay pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

“They have been devastated by the loss of their son and brother,” Futrell said. “He left two small children behind, a baby and a 7-year-old, and it has become the responsibility of the family to care for these children.”

Clay and Smith were ordered to serve their sentences at Parchman State Penitentiary, in part at the request of Washington’s family, who asked they not be housed at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility because Washington’s sister is employed there.

Smith did not speak during court proceedings, though his attorney Joe Hollomon asked the judge to consider a lighter sentence.

“I would like to say I have come to know (Smith) over the course of the last year,” Hollomon said. “I know he maintains a positive attitude, and he wants to get this behind him and move forward. He has extended family who will assist him in doing that, and we would ask the court to consider the totality of the circumstances and not impose the maximum sentence.”

Clay’s statement to the court was short.

“I apologize for my actions,” he said.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson admonishes the families involved in the 2011 killing of Walter Washington.
Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson admonishes the families involved in the 2011 killing of Walter Washington.

When handing down the sentences, Johnson said he took into consideration Smith’s age at the time of the shooting and the fact Clay did not pull the trigger.

But even as he did not levy the full sentence on either man, the judge admonished them for taking the wrong course of action.

“I am a strong believer in the right to have firearms, but they are for hunting and sporting purposes, and for self-defense,” he said. “It is like the proverb says, ‘You live by the sword, you die by the sword,’ and firearms are not the answer.”

The judge also told the families of Clay, Smith and Washington that while he did not know what started the feud, with the conclusion of the case, “this mess is over.”

“You need to put this behind you,” he said. “Walter Washington is gone, he is not coming back.”

Having a gun does not bestow maturity, Johnson said, and pulling the trigger without thinking about the results displays a disrespect for human life, for your own life and for the lives of those affected.

“It is obvious to me that a lot of people don’t have a lot of respect for this court, for law enforcement and for laws,” Johnson said. “It would be a sad state in this country if people just went and handled everything on their own.

“You don’t go out and handle things like this (yourself). This is why we have law enforcement, why we have laws. Look at where it led — we have Walter Washington dead in the ground with children left behind. We have (defendants who are) headed off to prison, and I don’t like all of this disrespect to the court system. It is disrespect for human life.

“For the Washington family, you grieve for Walter because he is gone, and to the Clay family, who wants to have a family reunion at the penitentiary?”

Clay also awaits trial along with several others in Concordia Parish.

He was arrested in August on charges of first-degree murder, seven counts of aggravated assault, armed robbery and criminal conspiracy for a July shooting during an apparent botched robbery in Ferriday.

One of the shooting victims, Eric Johnson, died several days afterward of injuries related to the shooting.