Guard sentenced in jail death

Neither side is happy with 20-year term in Smoot's stomping

December 13, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

A former correctional officer convicted of stomping a detainee to death at the downtown jail was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday, a term criticized as too short by the victim's family and as excessive by people close to the suspect who argued that the guard was framed.

Dameon C. Woods was found guilty two months ago in Baltimore Circuit Court of second-degree murder in the brutal beating of Raymond K. Smoot in May 2005 inside his cell at the state-run Central Booking and Intake Center. It was a chaotic scene and, in its aftermath, eight officers were fired for lying and three were charged with murder.

One officer was later acquitted and a judge threw out charges against the second. Only Woods was convicted of a crime.

Circuit Judge John M. Glynn heard the pleas of the defendant's brother and three current and former correctional officers, professing Woods to be a peacemaker, a doting father and a God-fearing man.

The characterization seemed to resonate with Glynn, who called Smoot's death an unmitigated tragedy for everyone connected. Woods, clean-shaven and looking as though he had lost weight, did not speak during the hour-long hearing.

"The jury found him guilty, and I'm required to honor that verdict," Glynn said, pausing a moment. "If but for this event, not a bad man."

Members of Smoot's family were not as convinced. They joined supporters in a packed courtroom and sat on the same benches as Woods' family and friends, with 13 uniformed officers looking on. Nobody seemed pleased with the judge's decision.

Victim's family

Kelly Evans, Smoot's niece, read a victim's impact statement from Smoot's daughter, who said her father's death has caused her emotional and financial distress. Afterward, Evans stood side-by-side with Delvonna Smoot -- also a niece of Raymond -- outside the courtroom where the family bemoaned how Woods was portrayed and wondered why he was not given more prison time.

Woods could have received a maximum 30-year-term.

"He might be a good father to his child, but my uncle will never have a chance to be a good one with his," Delvonna Smoot yelled emotionally into a horde of microphones. "They want to paint a picture like he wasn't violent. If it wasn't him, then why don't he speak up and tell us who did it? Now I'm left to raise [my uncle's] 11-year-old son."

Smoot's family members were disappointed Woods did not exercise his right to speak in court.

"He's still arrogant," said James Smoot, the victim's brother. "You see he had nothing to say."

Woods appeared composed during the earlier trial but cried when his brother spoke on his behalf yesterday.

The brother, Gregory Woods, was upset over the judge's ruling, calling it an unfair sentence considering the circumstances surrounding the case. A forensics expert testified that the attack had to have been done by multiple people, and no blood or DNA evidence matched Woods' profile.

He was convicted largely on the eyewitness testimony of five of his former co-workers who placed him inside the cell stomping Smoot. The ex-officers said Woods then bragged and taunted the other detainees afterward.

Most of those officers, however, were fired a day after the attack for lying to their supervisors. The officers told different stories on the witness stand, with two claiming some form of amnesia when trying to recall what happened the night Smoot was killed.

Theft arrest

Smoot, 51, had been arrested and charged with failing to appear in court on a theft charge.

While being detained at Central Booking, Smoot had an argument with three correctional officers and allegedly struck one in the face, knocking off his glasses and prompting a call for assistance, which Woods responded to.

As many as 30 officers rushed the outside area near Smoot's cell.

Glynn said during his ruling that the jury chose to believe those "alleged eyewitnesses" rather than a conspiracy theory promoted by the defense. Defense attorneys said Woods was framed by the fired officers because he was not part of their clique.

Guard's family

Gregory Woods said his younger brother should not have been convicted on evidence by such shady characters. He also said the sentence was too long.

"Is it fair to send a man to jail for 20 years based on question marks? I say no," Gregory Woods said. "It's unfair not only for us but for the Smoot family as well."

Margaret Mead, Dameon Woods' attorney, said she plans to file an appeal. Mead broke down while speaking on behalf of her client in court.

"In my 16 years of practice, I have never stood next to a defendant I believe is innocent as I do Mr. Woods," she said. "I've just never seen anything like it."

Complaints

Smoot's death came at a time when Central Booking was besieged with complaints of overcrowding.

Woods is believed to be the first officer convicted in a detainee's death in at least a decade.

Evans, Smoot's niece, said she, too, is a correctional officer, though she declined to say where. She said officers are not trained to handle situations in such a savage manner.

"It should never have happened like that," Evans said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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