Second chance granted: Brought up around crime, teen started adulthood in prison

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Kenneth Smith spent nearly three decades in prison for a 1990 murder he committed at age 18.

Smith fatally shot Green T. Johnson at a house in Detroit to obtain drugs and cash on Jan. 12, 1990, according to Wayne County prosecutors. 

Kenneth Smith

On the day of the killing, Smith and several friends went to the house known for selling marijuana with a plan to rob the place. Around 10 p.m., Smith, who was armed, came to the front door to ask for "some herb." He reluctantly left after being told there wasn’t any, according to a letter filed in opposition to Smith's release by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. 

But Smith later reappeared, placed his arms around Johnson in a hugging motion and then shot him in the head. After shooting the victim on the porch, he went inside and began shooting at the other two occupants in the home, prosecutors said. 

He then pistol-whipped another victim to get money and drugs. He left the house with about $2,000 in drugs, splitting it three ways with his friends, according to testimony during his November commutation hearing. 

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Smith recounted details of the killing, testifying that at that time, there "wasn't a thought as to what I had done."

Smith had served 28 years in prison at the time of the hearing last fall. Smith, now 47, was paroled in March after being granted commutation last winter by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. He could not be reached for an interview. 

Prior reviews in 2002, 2006, 2011 and 2016, all indicated there was “no interest” for parole, prosecutors noted. 

Earlier last year, the parole board voted unanimously to recommend the denial of Smith's application to Snyder who himself had denied the request in April 2018. 

Wayne County prosecutors objected to Smith's release, saying: “A pause and further review is warranted in view of the heinousness of his crimes, his role in those crimes and his long history of reliance on the criminal lifestyle while living in the community.”

At the time he committed the crime, Smith said, he was "selfish" and "engaged in an extreme criminal lifestyle that ultimately led to this homicide.”

Smith in November said he now believes in following rules and was truly remorseful. 

“I know that I can’t — nothing I can say can take away the pain, the harm that I’ve caused the family or heal their wounded hearts,” he said. “But I am truly remorseful, and I live with that bitter regret every day in my heart.”

At the time of the murder, Smith said, "I didn't respect the law."

His parents, both drug addicts who are now deceased, used every family home he had as a child for selling drugs and getting high, he said. 

He learned how to sell drugs himself at age 10. A couple of years later, he began drinking and using drugs. He got kicked out of high school in the 10th grade and began selling crack and heroin. 

“Selling drugs became a way of life for me because I took care of myself," he said during the November hearing. 

Smith finally admitted his guilt about 15 years ago, according to the hearing testimony, saying if he was granted release, "the public can feel safe in that my entire social network has changed."