Jamal Smith guilty of murder, gets life in prison

Jamal Smith
Jamal Smith

A Palm Beach County jury today found Jamal Smith guilty of first-degree murder for the 2011 shooting death Kemar Clayton.

After the jury delivered its verdict, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton sentenced Smith to life in prison for the murder charge plus a consecutive 50 years in prions for an armed robbery conviction.
Clayton’s family, seated in the courtroom, declined to address the judge before he sentenced Smith. On her way out of the courthouse, Clayton’s mother said she was happy with the verdict and sentence for Smith but didn’t elaborate any further as she and other relatives walked out.

Smith’s family expressed audible shock at both the guilty verdict and the life sentence, which was mandatory with the first-degree murder conviction.

Two male relatives left the courtroom with harsh words for the justice system. A young woman put her head in her hands and sobbed.

“The police kill black men every day and they get to go home,” one of Smith’s aunts shouted, to no one in particular, as she left the courtroom.

Smith himself showed anger at his sentence. At one point, after hearing Burton’s life in prison sentence, he stood and pushed his chair into the table and said some words that led deputies to handcuff him and take him back to a holding cell.

When Burton asked deputies to bring him back in to pronounce his sentence on the robbery charges, he stood the entire time and leaned back against the two deputies who stood behind him.

The jury began deciding the case Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from Assistant State Attorneys John Parnofiello and Andrew Slater and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who presented jurors with two different versions of what happened when Clayton met Smith and Quentin Lythgoe hoping to buy an iPad from them.

Lythgoe testified last week that the iPad sale was just a ruse used to lure Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 so he and Smith could rob him. At some point during the robbery, Lythgoe said, Clayton tried to go for his own gun, and Smith shot him to death.

Parnofiello told jurors that the killing was not an accident, but rather a possibility Smith had planned for in the four days he planned the robbery.

Ramsey, on the other hand, reiterated Smith’s testimony in his own defense, telling jurors that physical evidence in the case fails to support prosecutors’ theory that Clayton was still reaching for the gun when Smith starting shooting.

 

Jurors to decide Jamal Smith murder trial

123115-cobia-testify-3A Palm Beach County jury is now deliberating the first-degree murder case of Jamal Smith, the 24-year-old man charged in the 2011 shooting death Kemar Clayton.

The panel began deciding the case Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from Assistant State Attorneys John Parnofiello and Andrew Slater and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who presented jurors with two different versions of what happened when Clayton met Smith and Quentin Lythgoe hoping to buy an iPad from them.

Lythgoe testified last week that the iPad sale was just a ruse used to lure Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 so he and Smith could rob him. He said Smith picked Clayton, who had a business buying and selling iPhones and iPads, after asking friends to give him leads on who to rob and hearing that Clayton might be an easy mark.

But at some point during the robbery, Lythgoe said, Clayton tried to go for his own gun, as Smith shot him to death.

Parnofiello told jurors that the killing was not an accident, but rather a possibility Smith had planned for in the four days he planned the robbery, recruited Lythgoe to come along as “muscle” and obtained a .45 -caliber handgun.

“He had that .45 to make sure he was going to come up. He had that .45 to make sure he was going to get some money,” Parnofiello said.

Ramsey, on the other hand, reiterated Smith’s testimony in his own defense, telling jurors that physical evidence in the case fails to support prosecutors’ theory that Clayton was still reaching for the gun when Smith starting shooting.

The downward splatter of Clayton’s blood is a sign that he was standing when he was shot, supporting the defense argument that there was no robbery and Clayton approached Smith with a gun after Lythgoe swiped a pair of sneakers from the trunk of Clayton’s Mercedes-Benz.

“It was a tragic misreading of motives and actions by everyone at the scene,” Ramsey said.

Although Lythgoe said the two made off with several hundred dollars in the robbery, Ramsey said the fact that investigators found several hundreds of dollars, Clayton’s jewelry and an untouched iPad on the scene is all evidence that a robbery never happened

Before Smith’s trial began last week, the expected highlight of testimony in the case was to be an appearance from Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse lawyer turned informant who claims to have obtained confessions from dozens of his cellmates – including Smith.

Though Cobia’s potential testimony was the subject of months of legal wrangling in the case, prosecutors unceremoniously announced Thursday that they would not be calling him as a witness.

 

 

 

Belle Glade man sentenced to life for murder during 2015 fight

dwane-lowersA 21-year-old Belle Glade man was sentenced  to life in prison Thursday immediately after a jury convicted him in the shooting death of a 23-year-old man during a fight last year.

Dwane Lowers’ first-degree murder trial began last week and ended Monday with closing arguments from defense attoreny Thomas Weiss and Assistant State Attorneys Jill Richstone and Reid Scott.

Jurors returned the guilty verdict after several hours of deliberation, and – with life in prison the only possible sentence – Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentenced Lowers immediately.

Deputies arrested Lowers in July 2005, less than two weeks after he and other patrons from the nightclub Club Coco got into a fight in the parking lot of the

 

State: Frederick Cobia won’t testify in Jamal Smith murder trial

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

On what could be the last full day of testimony in 24-year-old Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday that they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant whose presence in the case sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will likely rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton Friday and will not call Cobia as a witness.

Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he says he’s obtained confessions from other defendants, told deputies that Smith confessed his involvement in Clayton’s death while the two were housed together at the Palm Beach County Jail.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought hard since last year to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records last year transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.

The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox afterwards had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.

As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, the most damaging testimony against him now will likely be from co-defendant Quentin Lythgoe, who on Thuesday completed his testimony against his former friend.

Lythgoe told jurors that Smith lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Lythgoe, allowed him to plead guilty to robbery charges and capped a sentence recommendation at 15 years in prison.

VERDICT: Bryan Augustin GUILTY of lesser charge in 2014 stabbing

bryan-augustinA Palm Beach County jury on Friday convicted a 20-year-old Riviera Beach man of second-degree murder for the November 2014 stabbing death of his niece’s mother after an argument at his family’s home.

The only question for jurors in Bryan Augustin’s trial this week was whether he was acting with premeditation when he stabbed 17-year-old Kayla Storey to death.

Assistant State Attorneys Jill Richstone and Reid Scott told jurors that Augustin walked into the kitchen with the intent to kill the teen, who had a then-infant daughter with Augustin’s brother, because the two had argued earlier over a gun missing from the house.

Assistant Public Defender Noble Parsons acknowledged that Augustin killed Storey in front of his mother, Myriam, and Storey’s then 12-year-old sister Kiersten, but said prosecutors couldn’t prove it was premeditated.

After several hours of deliberation that began late Thursday, jurors ultimately sided with Parsons, convicting Augustin of second-degree murder, though they convicted him as charged of a related armed aggravated battery charge.

Augustin, who was just days shy of his 19th birthday at the time of the stabbing, could still face up to life in prison when Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson sentences him Nov. 18. The life sentence would have been mandatory had he been convicted of first-degree murder, but under the second-degree murder charge the minimum sentence is 25 years in prison.

Mother of 20-year-old accused of killing his niece’s mother recalls attack

As Myriam Augustin sat on the stand Friday during her son’s trial for murder, she recalled washing rice in the sink of her Riviera Beach home when she felt her son’s presence walk behind her on Nov. 14, 2014.  Earlier that day her son, Bryan Augustin, and the mother of his niece, Kayla Storey, had a fight over him going through her room looking for something. 

Augustin said the next thing she heard was Storey’s sister, Kiersten, yell:

“What are you doing, Bryan?”

Bryan Augustin (Palm Beach County Jail 2014)
Bryan Augustin (Palm Beach County Jail 2014)

When she turned around, her son was stabbing Storey feet away from her.

Testimony continued Thursday in the murder trial of 20-year-old Bryan Augustin with multiple witnesses including Augustin, Riviera Beach Police detectives, DNA experts and a childhood friend of Augustin in front of Judge Marni Bryson.

On. Nov. 14, 2014, police say Augustin stabbed Storey several times at the home they shared with his mother and other brothers. Storey and one of Augustin’s brother have a daughter together and after she was born Storey moved into the home. During the stabbing, then-12-year-old Kiersten ran outside with Storey’s 1-year-old daughter to safety and Augustin’s mother pushed him to the wall and attempted to grab the knife from him, injuring her hand.

“I told him, “Bryan, you cut Mommy,”” Augustin recalled, choking back tears. That’s when he shook his head–like he was leaving a trance, she said–and ran out of the home.

Augustin said her son was always quiet and never violent. She said he and Storey would have small arguments mainly over what was on TV, but nothing physical.

She said she still questions why her then-18-year-old son stabbed Storey to death in the kitchen they shared as a family. Police say Storey had found a gun earlier in the home and removed it. When Augustin got home, he was upset when he couldn’t find it and allegedly punched Storey in the face, police said.

When Judge Bryson called for a short recess on Thursday morning, Augustin sat in the courtroom with her head bowed when she was approached by members of Storey’s family and the group hugged.

“You know I love you,” she told them.

 

Jury to decide case of Riviera man accused of killing rival

Corey Jackson
Corey Jackson

Jurors on Thursday will begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of Corey Jackson, accused in the shooting death of 29-year-old Paul Johnson over what prosecutors say was likely an ongoing dispute over a woman.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Jackson, 26,  delivered their final words to jurors late Wednesday before Circuit Judge Dina Keever sent the panel home with plans to read them jury instructions and allow them to begin deliberations in the morning.

Much of prosecutors’ case rested on testimony from a pair of witnesses who said they saw Jackson call Johnson over to him on Nov. 20, 2014 after Johnson got out of his car in the 1100 block of West 31st Street. Assistant State Attorneys Aleathea McRoberts and Lauren Godden reminded jurors Wednesday that both witnesses said Jackson and Johnson discussed a woman in the ensuing exchange.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson

One witness said that Jackson accused Johnson of pointing a gun at him at least a day earlier. Both said Jackson eventually started firing, hitting Johnson five times.

“Don’t disrespect me and think you’re going to get away with it,” McRoberts described as Jackson’s alleged mindset, adding: “He wouldn’t let it go…The defendant had decided that it was past the point of no return this time.”

But if the dispute was really about a woman, Assistant Public Defender Scott Pribble asked jurors, who was she, where was she, and why did jurors never hear from her during the three-day trial?

Pribble also pointed out the fact that police never recovered a murder weapon and failed to to complete what he said would have been basic parts of a murder investigation, most notably never obtaining a search warrant for Jackson’s phone.

As for the witnesses, Pribble said the state’s best witness, a convicted felon, testified in order to avoid his own felony gun charge. Pribble used his last words to jurors to urge them to acquit Jackson.

“Because in this country we don’t punish people for crimes they didn’t commit, for crimes that the state can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Pribble said.

The defense’s sole witness was Jackson’s mother, who sobbed as she left the witness stand after describing how police came to her house searching for her son before they eventually captured him.

Seated in the court gallery was Johnson’s mother, Cassandra, other relatives and Angela Williams, one of the founders of the Palm Beach County-based Mothers Against Murderers Association. Williams, who has had to bury her nephew and several other relatives due to gun violence, expressed sympathy for the mothers of both men.

“Whatever the outcome is here, nobody’s going to win,” she said of the mothers. “It’s a loss for everyone.”

 

Riviera Beach man on trial in stabbing death of niece’s mother

bryan-augustinTestimony began Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of the 20-year-old man accused of stabbing the 17-year-old mother of his niece to death nearly two years ago.

Bryan Augustin, of Riviera Beach, was arrested Boynton Beach two days after the Nov. 10, 2014 stabbing death of 17-year-old Kayla Storey.

Storey’s then 12-year-old sister, Kiersten, was a witness in the trial before Judge Marni Bryson Wednesday, recounting the argument where Augustin allegedly punched her sister in the face over a handgun missing fro nthe Augustin family home in the 1300 block of West 25th Street.

Later, while the girls, Augustin’s mother and Storey’s then 1-year-old daughter were in the kitchen, Augustin allegedly came in with a sharp black object and stabbed Storey repeatedly.

Kiersten was able to grab her sister’s daughter, Genesis and escape the house uninjured. But according to arrest reports, Augustin’s mother, Myriam, sustained cuts to her hands as she tried to wrestle what she later described as a “black plastic thing” in her son’s hands.

Assistant State Attorneys Jill Richstone and Reid Scott and Assistant Public Defender Noble Parsons  delivered their opening statements in the case to jurors Wednesday before testimony began. The trial could wrap up as early as Thursday.

Trial begins for Jamal Smith, whose case sparked fight over snitch

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Jury selection began Wednesday in a murder trial for Jamal Smith, the man whose case sparked a court battle over the recorded conversations of a jailhouse informant.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton told a panel of more than 100 prospective jurors Wednesday that the trial for Smith, accused in the 2011 shooting death of 24-year-old Kemar Clayton, is expected to last three weeks.

The expected star witness for the state in Smith’s trial is Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse snitch who has been listed by prosecutors as a potential witness in 23 cases. He has already testified as a jail informant in two local cases and earlier this year was still scheduled to testify in two others aside from Smith’s.

Prosecutors had once intended to seek the death penalty against Cobia for the murder of a 57-year-old man in Belle Glade, but he was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 in exchange for his cooperation in eight separate cases. In the recorded jail calls, which The Post published after Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey filed them in the court record, Cobia tells his daughter he expects his continued assistance will earn him a reduced sentence.

The publishing of those calls prompted Circuit Judge Jack Cox to order the calls removed from The Post’s website and initiate contempt of court proceedings against Ramsey, Smith’s attorney.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s decision to keep the calls private, and Cox later agreed to step down from Smith’s case, but the contempt case against Ramsey is still active.

 

Riviera Beach man on trial for 2014 alleged retaliation murder

Corey Jackson
Corey Jackson

A trial began Monday for a 26-year-old accused of shooting a man five times in Riviera Beach nearly two years ago after accusing the victim of having pointed a gun at him.

Corey Jackson, 26, turned down a last-minute plea offer from prosecutors, according to court records, opting to stand trial instead for the Nov. 20, 2014 murder of 29-year-old Paul Johnson.

A witness told police that when Paul Johnson got out of his car that afternoon in the 1100 Block of West 31st Street, Jackson was standing on the other side of the roadway and repeatedly called Johnson over to him.

They met in the roadway, witnesses said, and Jackson allegedly questions Johnson about whether he had pointed a gun at him. One witness said Jackson referenced the gun incident as having happened a day earlier, another told police the shooter merely mentioned a prior date.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson

Johnson, they said, denied the shooting, and according to one witness Jackson told him a woman connected to Johnson had told him differently. The exchange ended in gunfire, and police found Johnson shot five times.

Johnson was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he later died of his injuries.

In addition to first-degree murder, Jackson – who has a 2008 conviction for a felony marijuana sales charge – is facing a felony gun possession charge.