Martha Childress wiped tears from behind black-rimmed glasses Friday as an attorney described her alleged assailant’s remorseless reactions days after his arrest.
She attended the federal sentencing of Michael Juan Smith with at least a dozen family members and supporters, sitting straight-faced with arms crossed over her her chest as the maximum sentence was delivered.
Smith was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a federal weapons charge. The 21-year-old still faces state charges, including attempted murder, in the October shooting that paralyzed Childress. Those charges could earn him up to an additional 46 years in prison if he is found guilty.
Smith pleaded guilty in February to the federal charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr.
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“It is regretful that despite his good upbringing in church he decided to partake in this mischief,” Anderson said. “There will be one less convicted felon in Five Points ... for at least 10 years.”
Anderson handed down the maximum sentence for the charge after considering that the defense did not present enough evidence to show that Smith was acting in self-defense when he fired the gun into the crowded downtown area, and he said Smith didn’t show remorse during phone calls he made from the jail after his arrest.
“It was all an accident,” Smith said just before his sentence was delivered. “My intentions were not to hurt anybody.”
Smith, who was 20 at the time of the crime, is accused of firing his gun in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 2013, after arguing with another man in Five Points. A stray bullet struck Childress, who was standing in a taxi line near the Five Points fountain at the intersection of Harden and Greene streets.
Smith was on state probation and state parole at the time and is prohibited under federal law from possessing a firearm based on two prior burglary convictions. The gun used in the shooting had been reported stolen.
At the signal of Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Haynes, Childress and her mother left the courtroom while clips from surveillance video taken in Five Points the night of the shooting were shown at the hearing. The footage showed Smith, dressed in a tan jacket, walking along Harden Street with an object – the gun, the prosecution contended – swinging from his left-hand jacket pocket, which he later transferred to his right-hand pocket.
The video captured the moment when Childress crumpled to the curb after being struck by the bullet. Smith had no obvious emotional reaction in the courtroom as the video was shown multiple times.
There was contention between the prosecution and defense over whether Smith was acting recklessly or in self-defense when he fired his gun. At stake in the answer was an attempted murder cross-reference on the weapon possession charge, which ultimately pushed Smith’s sentence to the maximum 10 years.
Witness statements from that night said Smith fired his gun after one of the women in his group of friends told him another man had a gun. No gun was actually shown to or drawn on Smith, Haynes said, and he acted recklessly by firing his weapon.
“Someone telling me that someone’s got a gun is not reason enough for me to start firing shots in a crowded area like Five Points,” Haynes said.
The bullet fired that night struck Childress in the back, damaging several internal organs and paralyzing her from the waist down.
Childress underwent intensive therapy in Atlanta, learning to live in a wheelchair. She took spring semester classes from her home in the Upstate and is moving back to Columbia to attend classes on campus this fall.
Childress and her family declined to discuss the case or sentencing with the media Friday.
Her uncle and family spokesperson, Jim Carpenter, a Greenville attorney, said after the sentencing that Childress has been “doing well” the past few months.
“We’re very proud of her and we love her,” he said. “She’s a tough young lady.”
Smith’s mother, Juanita Smith, attended the sentencing with about a dozen family members and friends. She apologized to the Childress family at the hearing and asked Anderson to allow her son to serve his sentence in South Carolina, where he could remain close to his 3-year-old son. She said she had told her son, “You don’t need to go down there (to Five Points),” and asked him to stay with her that night.
“He comes from a good family,” she said. “This is not my son. Something had to happen down there. This is not Michael.”
No timetable has been set for a trial on Smith’s state charges, which include attempted murder, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
Smith’s federal prison sentence will be carried out after any state sentence is served.
Smith has been held without bond in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center since Oct. 13.