Detroit man found not guilty of shooting federal judge

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A Wayne County jury delivered a split verdict Tuesday in the trial of a 23-year-old Detroit man, finding him not guilty of armed robbery and assault with intent to murder a federal judge.

But they did find Kevin Andre Smith Jr. guilty of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and two felony firearms possession charges.

The six men and six women announced their decision on the five charges after about eight hours of deliberations over two days.

Smith was charged in the March 2015 shooting U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg in the leg on the porch of his University District home on Detroit’s northwest side during an alleged botched robbery.

Berg, who had attended most of the hearing, was not in the courtroom for the verdict because he is out of town for a mandatory federal judge meeting. He told The Detroit News he respects the jury’s decision but also is satisfied Smith will not escape punishment or prison time.

“When you look at the horrible conduct he and his co-conspirators were doing ... preying on elderly people,” Berg said. “That fact that he’s been convicted ... that is excellent. I’m glad he’s being held accountable.”

Smith could be sentenced to up to life in prison on the conspiracy conviction when he is sentenced by Wayne County Judge Tim Kenny on June 8. The conviction on felon in possession of a firearm carries a five-year prison term, while the felony firearm conviction is a mandatory two-year consecutive prison sentence.

Berg added “my heart goes out to all those victims who were victimized.” He thanked the Detroit Police Department, federal agents who worked on the case and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office “for putting this case together.”

Berg’s wife, Anita Sevier, said after the proceedings that although she felt the jury did its job she still believes Smith is guilty of the shooting.

“I think he was there when my husband was shot,” Sevier said, adding Berg has spoken with the prosecutor.

She said there’s “no question” her family will remain in their home where the shooting occurred.

Smith’s attorney, John McWilliams, said he thinks the inability of Berg and Sevier to positively identify Smith as the man who shot the judge was key in the acquittal of the more serious charges of armed robbery and attempted murder of Berg.

Juror Karen Richardson said the jury did not have sufficient enough evidence to convict Smith on the Berg shooting.

“We only had the testimony of the two felons,” Richardson said after the verdict. “They had no weapon.”

The weapon in the shooting has not been recovered, authorities said.

Sevier said her husband “would never want to put someone behind bars” for something they didn’t do.

McWilliams added his client was pleased with the verdict but disappointed he will do time on some of the charges.

Smith, 23, of Detroit, backed out of a plea deal in the case the day before testimony began in the trial. He said he would rather go to trial than accept a deal that would put him behind bars for 40 years for the shooting of Berg and two other federal offenses.

“I’m really doing still over 30 years. I just had a daughter,” Smith said. “I got no life left.”

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 which he admitted to during testimony in his trial.

Earlier Tuesday, the panel sent a note with a question for the judge. It was their third note; on Monday, they sent out two asking to see transcripts for the case and for Berg’s height.

Smith, prosecutors say, was part of a crime ring that committed armed robbery and home invasions called “walk ins” of individuals and business owners in northwest Detroit from January to May last year. The ring held up about 16 people during at least nine robberies.

Smith has maintained his innocence and denied selling a gun used to shoot the judge.

“I didn’t shoot the judge,” Smith said Thursday during testimony. “If I shot a judge, sir, I would have taken a plea agreement.”

But, one of Smith’s alleged co-conspirators, Robert Williams, testified he saw Smith shoot the judge and that Smith was part of the robbery crime.

McWilliams said Williams and another man who were both members of the crime ring threw his client “under the bus” because they got good plea deals enticing them to testify against Smith.

Berg and his wife testified during the trial about the shooting which appeared to have been a random incident.

Berg said he was approached the evening of March 5 by two unknown men as he was taking garbage cans to the side of his house and walking back toward his porch.

The judge said one of the men stayed behind while the other followed Berg up on his porch, reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. He said they didn’t want to harm him but wanted to get inside his home.

“I said ‘no, no, no.’ Then he said ‘we have a gun.’ Everything happened quickly. I didn’t want them to come into the house,” Berg testified. “He had a gun. I was concerned he might harm my family or me.”

Sevier gave emotional testimony about finding her husband writhing in pain after being shot.

She said she was doing dishes when she heard a loud crash that sounded like glass shattering coming from the front porch. A second later, she heard her husband call for help.

“He’s moaning ... wincing ... in agony over his leg,” Sevier said. “Right then I see two guys running away. I see two gentleman running away from our house. I yelled at them. I screamed at them. I was so angry.”

Williams, who pleaded guilty to home invasion charges, testified he was with Smith when they spotted Berg. He said he and Smith ran up to Berg as he was putting his garbage cans away.

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