Trial set to begin for man accused of shooting judge

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday afternoon in the trial of the man charged in the shooting of a federal judge.

The jury — seven men and seven women — were seated Tuesday in the trial of Kevin Andre Smith Jr., who is accused of shooting U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg last year.

Berg is expected to take the witness stand.

Smith, 23, of Detroit, backed out of a plea deal Monday on the day his trial was scheduled to start, saying the prison sentence would have been too stiff.

Smith told Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny that he would prefer to go to trial rather than accept a plea deal that would have put him behind bars for 40 years for the shooting of Berg and two other federal offenses.

Smith told Kenny he thought he could negotiate 30 years for the shooting, a 2012 carjacking and a jewelry store robbery for which he has not been arraigned but has been indicted by a grand jury.

The Berg case alone could put Smith behind bars for three decades. .

Forty years is a harsh sentence since the charges don’t involve a fatal shooting, Smith said.

“I’m really doing still over 30 years. I just had a daughter,” Smith said as his mother and sister watched in the courtroom. “I got no life left.”

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Moran told Kenny federal authorities would not dismiss the federal cases against him.

Smith is negotiating with federal prosecutors for a plea deal that would get him 10 years behind bars for the two federal offenses. He is facing 30-35 years for the carjacking and pending charges in connection with a “smash and grab” jewelry store robbery in Roseville last year.

Kenny told Smith: “You have to do what’s in your best interest.”

Berg was wounded in the right leg March 2015 on the porch of his home on the city’s northwest side. Authorities believe Smith and two others were part of a home invasion ring that operated in the area and are believed to be responsible for a string of robberies from January to May 2015.

Smith, the accused triggerman in the Berg case, is on trial on numerous charges including assault with intent to commit murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery.

Berg survived the shooting and returned to the bench after several months of recovery from his injuries.

Prospective jurors were asked by Kenny, at the request of defense attorney John McWilliams, if they had watched television news reports or read newspaper articles about Berg’s shooting. Many of them raised their hands indicating they had.

Berg and his wife are expected to be the first to take the stand.

The judge told The Detroit News in December: “I would have no hesitation testifying in court” about the shooting. He also has used the shooting to call for an end to gun violence and said part of the solution to prevent violence was more job opportunities, better schooling and hiring more police officers.

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