Detroit man gets 67 to 90 years in judge-shooting case

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Kevin Andre Smith Jr., the 23-year-old Detroit man charged with and acquitted in the March 2015 shooting of U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg, but convicted on conspiracy to commit armed robbery and two felony firearms possession charges, was sentenced to 67 to 90 years in prison for his role on Wednesday.

“We can and we must be protected from this evil,” Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said at the sentencing. “It will not be permitted to flourish.”

Kevin Smith Jr. (left) received 67 to 90 years for his role in the shooting for U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg (in suit). Sentencing was Wednesday in front of Judge Tim Kenny at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit.

Smith received 65 to 90 years for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, habitual offender; 5 to 10 years for felon in possession of a firearm, habitual offender; and two years for felony firearm.

Smith faced as much as a life sentence for the conspiracy charge. The felony firearm conviction is a mandatory two-year consecutive prison sentence.

Smith will appeal his sentence, attorney John McWilliams said.

Prior to his sentencing, Smith used his time to address the court to speak to his victims and co-conspirators.

“It’s easy to put somebody behind a mask. Out of 18, 20 robberies, even the people who said nobody was wearing a mask could say I did anything to them,” Smith said.

“Be safe out there,” Smith said to the victims in the courtroom. “These same guys who admitted to 18, 20 robberies are going to be out here again in five years.”

“I want you prosecutors, you detectives to tell (co-conspirators who testified against Smith) to be safe as well when they come home — I pray for them.”

Smith was convicted for his part as the ringleader in some 16 robberies, said assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Moran.

Smith had backed out of a plea deal 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. Now, at a minimum, he’ll serve 27 years more than that.

Three of Smith’s victims spoke up before he was sentenced. Others wrote letters. Others made no statements but were in court to seek closure.

After the sentencing of Kevin Andre Smith Jr., U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg, middle, shakes the hand of Charles Bryant, who was also a victim in the robberies.

Two victims told The News they chose to get licenses to carry concealed weapons after being robbed. Worse than the physical items taken, they said, was the peace of mind that comes from being at home.

That peace has been violated, they said. Strangers have been inside their homes, seen what they own, and even taken some of it — all at gunpoint.

“This isn’t something you can put a Band-Aid on,” Moran said.

Sabrena Session, 58, was in her bathroom getting ready for work one morning when a man in all black clothing appeared and placed a gun to her chest.

A cancer survivor, Session thought chemotherapy and radiation were the worst ordeals she’d ever face. Now, unless she gave up whatever the man in black asked for, she ran the risk that her daughter, who planned on visiting the home the next day, would return to find her parents shot dead.

Session got a concealed-pistol license after the invasion, but said it would take more than gun ownership or the conviction of the perpetrator to return to what she was before that fateful morning, if that’s even possible.

“I can never get back my before,” Session said. “I don’t trust anybody now. If I didn’t know you before, I don’t want to know you now.

Charles Bryant, 71, said he could remember a time in Mississippi at a time when his family could leave their home unlocked.

He knew Detroit, which he moved to in the early 1970s, was a different situation, but part of him feels he got too comfortable.

“I used to never worry about looking over my shoulder,” Bryant said. “Now I do it every time I leave the house. That’s a bad way to live the rest of my life.”

Without the March 2015 shooting of Berg at his home in the University District, and the massive law-enforcement response that followed, it’s possible the crew responsible for creating so many victims would still be on the streets.

Berg was approached when taking out the garbage. As the robbery crew had done in several cases, they pushed the judge to enter his home. He refused. They shot him in the leg and ran.

“If what happened to me helped (the perpetrators) get caught,” Berg said, “that’s a positive consequence.”

The judge, who returned to the bench in September, said he was surprised by the outpouring of support he’s gotten from Detroiters.

“The fear is still there,” Berg said, when people pull up to him in their cars and roll down their windows when he’s out walking. “But nothing bad has ever happened. Instead, people wish me well. The majority of the people of Detroit are that way.”