Michael Juan Smith, who was roaming Five Points with a stolen Glock handgun early Sunday, had for three years avoided lengthy sentences in Richland County courtrooms on two burglary charges.
Smith, a convicted felon who is either 20 or 21 he has two birthdates in official records is now the only suspect in the random shooting that left an innocent University of South Carolina student paralyzed and likely never to walk again.
A look at Smiths criminal history contained in state prison records, Richland County courthouse files and Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center records shows a young man given several chances to go straight and who wound up each time tangling with the law. After his first burglary conviction, when he was given probation, Smith fairly quickly burglarized another dwelling, according to records.
Hes a bad guy, said 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson. We intend to prosecute him vigorously.
In Sundays shooting, Smith is charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, use of a weapon during a violent crime and possession of a weapon by a convicted violent felon, among other things.
On April 15, 2010, the then-18-year-old Smith was charged with first-degree burglary, which carries a maximum life sentence. He allegedly tried to open an apartment door at Saluda River Road in the St. Andrews area with a handsaw, according to a warrant in that case. He was sent to Richland Countys Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
Eleven days later, on April 26, 2010, then-Circuit Court Judge Michelle Childs ordered Smith released on $20,000 bond. Childs ordered that he be home every night at 10 p.m. and only go to home, school, work, church and legal appointments, according to court documents.
Six months later, in October 2010, Smith pleaded guilty before Judge Casey Manning to second-degree burglary which carries a maximum 10 to 15 years. Manning sentenced Smith under the states Youthful Offender Act to a prison term, not to exceed two years, suspended for two years meaning Smith would not serve time if he went straight.
The Youthful Offender Act is a law that applies to young people ages 18-25. They receive minimum prison sentences and are kept away from the general prison population in hopes they might be rehabilitated, said S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services spokesman Peter OBoyle.
Manning also ordered Smith to get and keep a job as well as to serve 80 hours of public service employment, according to the court sentencing document.
A year later, on Oct. 11, 2011, Richland County deputies arrested Smith and charged him with grand larceny and first-degree burglary of a home on Longcreek Drive, also in St. Andrews. The warrant alleged Smith committed the crime during the hours of darkness, which is a felony and qualified him for a sentence of 15 years to life if found guilty.
Warrants in that case alleged Smith kicked open an apartment door and stole electronics and currency worth more than $2,000. The stolen items were found a few minutes later in a laundry room. Richland County deputies quickly arrested Smith, who was seen by an eyewitness.
On Dec. 15, 2011, in a hearing about the October 2011 burglary, Judge Manning ordered Smith released from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond meaning Smith paid no money. Manning ordered Smith to attend GED classes and/or work.
Meanwhile, the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services department learned about Smiths latest burglary charge. Its officials charged him with violating probation.
On April 6, 2012, after finding that Smith violated numerous probation requirements including failing to get a job and using drugs Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr. revoked Smiths probation and ordered him to prison under Judge Mannings Youthful Offender Act sentence for the 2010 burglary.
Specifically, Cooper found, Smith failed to complete his public service requirement, he used drugs while on probation and failed to get a job.
Smith went straight to prison. He spent from April 2012 to February 2013 in prison, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections.
After leaving prison, Smith went to court on the October 2011 charge of first-degree burglary and grand larceny at Longcreek Drive.
On March 12 of this year, Judge Thomas W. Cooper Jr. allowed Smith to plead guilty to grand larceny and second-degree burglary in the October 2011 burglary. The burglary was classified as violent, which means Smith was now classified as a violent offender.
Records show Cooper then sentenced Smith to 10 years suspended to the time he had served in jail and in state prison. Cooper also put Smith on probation for three years. That meant that Smith didnt have to serve any additional time in prison specifically for the October 2011 burglary.
On June 25, Smith was arrested again by Columbia police on a charge of trespassing, according to State Law Enforcement Division and jail records. He was released from the Glenn Detention Center after a few hours on a $470 personal recognizance bond. City police said they had no immediate details Tuesday on that arrest.
In late July and early August, Smith spent two weeks in the Glenn Detention Center on a charge of obstructing justice, brought by SLED. In that matter which was unrelated to any local criminal charge Smith eventually cooperated by giving agents information, and the charges were dropped, SLED chief Mark Keel said Tuesday.
Johnson said without a transcript of what was actually said before the various judges in whose courtrooms Smith appeared, it is hard to draw a conclusion about whether the judges decision was too light or too harsh.
In the March hearing about Smiths 2011 burglary, for example, Johnson said his prosecutor had to contend with an uncooperative witness and no fingerprints on the stolen items that could be linked to Smith.
We have to react to the evidence we have, not the evidence we wished we could have had, Johnson said.
Johnson said he would disagree with anyone who said Smith was treated lightly. We prosecuted him each time, and both convictions are on his record.
Johnson said, We do everything we can within the law to keep these criminals in jail. When something like this happens, it tears my prosecutors up.
Sadly, Johnson said, You cant predict these peoples future behavior.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-9344.