U.S. says prisoner runs gang from cell

Planner of firebombing gets 80 years in resentencing hearing

August 23, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

The man convicted of orchestrating the January 2005 firebombing of the Harwood Community Association president's home has continued to act as a Baltimore gang leader from his prison cell in Beaumont, Texas, a federal prosecutor said in a court hearing yesterday.

Terrence Smith, 28, returned to Baltimore to be resentenced after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz did not adequately explain why he exceeded federal sentencing guidelines in sending Smith to prison for 80 years.

Yesterday, the judge again sentenced Smith to 80 years, calling him "a dangerous person." There is "no question that this was an attempted murder," Motz said. "It was a botched job, but that doesn't change the intent."

Smith was one of eight defendants convicted of firebombing the home of Edna McAbier, whose community activism and repeated calls to police about drug dealing made her the target of a violent drug gang affiliated with the Bloods. McAbier was not injured because the Molotov cocktails hurtled at her property fizzled, causing about $100 in damage. But authorities argued the significance of the firebombing was that it reinforced residents' worst fears of witness intimidation and retaliation.

After the attack, McAbier left her home of 30 years, passing through a dozen hotel rooms as she awaited the suspects' trials, she told The Sun two years ago. McAbier was in court yesterday but did not testify or talk to reporters. From the bench, Motz asked after her, and she replied, "I'm doing very well, your honor."

In a system with no parole, Smith's 80 years is tantamount to a life sentence. It was the harshest punishment given to any of the firebombing defendants.

Yet Smith is still "coordinating gang activity" from his federal prison cell in Texas, said Assistant U.S. Attorney A. David Copperthite.

In an intercepted letter and in two recorded phone calls to his brother this year, Smith laid out a plan for bringing Baltimore Bloods factions under the more established West Coast gang, Copperthite said, entering the letter and recorded calls into evidence.

"He has continued to make Baltimore a much less safe city," Copperthite said.

When he stood to address the court, Smith said, "I am what I am. ... There's no dispute that I'm a gang member."

Much of his visible skin is covered in tattoos. Growing up on Greenmount Avenue, he said, boys either became basketball players or drug dealers. But, Smith insisted, he had "no motive" to hurt McAbier and said he felt he was taking the blame for his co-defendants' behavior.

He also said he believed prosecutors and the judge were "stuck on my criminal history." Smith was a suspect in several killings but was never convicted. Baltimore prosecutors dropped two murder charges he faced because of uncooperative witnesses.

During Smith's trial in the firebombing, one fellow gang member, who received a sentence of 12 years in exchange for his cooperation, testified that Smith admitted to killing one woman years earlier and then devising another woman's shooting death a week after the firebombing.

Federal prosecutors can introduce evidence of other criminal conduct - even without an underlying conviction for that conduct - in arguing for a harsher sentence.

After listening to Copperthite, the defense attorney and Smith, the judge immediately handed down the same sentence he had years ago.

"The public needs to be protected from you," Motz told Smith. "If I failed to do it before, I think now I've explained why."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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