Friday, February 8, 2008

Mississippi: Teen set free in shooting death

Jackson, Mississippi

From the Jackson Clarion Ledger of February 6, 2008
Teen set free in shooting death

A Jackson 19-year-old who said he shot and killed a man who had constantly bullied and robbed him is free of a murder charge after a Hinds County grand jury didn't indict him.

Kentarus Christmas was released from the Hinds County Detention Center late Tuesday.

Christmas was charged with murder in the Nov. 10 shooting death of Michael Smith, 21, of Jackson outside a business off East Fortification Street.

"The Lord was working with me. He knew that I wasn't some troubled child out there doing wrong. He stood behind me," Christmas said Tuesday after being released from jail.

But Smith's grandmother, Luezina Smith, said the grand jury's decision not to indict Christmas sends the message that, "If you're afraid, you can go out and kill someone."

Luezina Smith said Christmas should face a murder charge in her grandson's death.

"He shot him down from behind and stood over him and shot him more times," Luezina Smith said.

During Christmas' preliminary hearing in December, his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Matthew Eichelberger, called Michael Smith a thug and said his client deserved a key to the city instead of being in handcuffs.

"This is great news. I'm overjoyed for Ken and his family, and I'm proud of the people of Hinds County for recognizing this for what it was - justifiable homicide," Eichelberger said Tuesday. "Now Ken can go on with his life, free of harassment from both the justice system and Michael Smith."

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith confirmed Tuesday that Christmas wasn't indicted.

Robert Shuler Smith, no relationship to Michael Smith, said he doesn't know why the grand jury didn't indict Christmas but said the grand jury probably took into consideration Smith's criminal history of robbing people.

"I couldn't imagine the grand jury wouldn't take that into consideration," Robert Shuler Smith said.

Jackson police Detective Amos Clinton said he didn't want to call Smith a thug but said police had had run-ins with him.


Police said Christmas voluntarily gave a statement confessing to shooting Smith but said there had been an ongoing situation in which Smith had repeatedly robbed and bullied him.

Christmas was apprehended while fleeing the scene the night Smith was shot.

A 9-mm handgun was recovered. Smith, who was shot multiple times, later died at Baptist Medical Center.

Christmas told police Smith had approached him at a barbershop near where the shooting occurred and demanded money. When he told him he didn't have any money, Smith reportedly told him he needed to have someone bring him money.

Christmas told police he followed Smith out of the barbershop door and shot him.

"He said if he didn't do something, the bullying would continue," Clinton testified in Christmas' preliminary hearing.

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