By Melissa Dunson
With his fate of at least three life sentences in prison sealed, convicted murderer Thomas D. “Mad Dog” Smith finally addressed the court during his sentencing hearing Friday for the first time in six months of trial with a statement that “disgusted” longtime Judge Gary Fenner.
Standing in an orange jumpsuit, his hands shackled in front of him, Smith looked at the family of his murder victim Paris Harbin, and smiled.
“I would like to feel like I have some kind of remorse or regret, but I don’t,” Smith said to the court. “I’ve never once lost any sleep over anything, and I won’t.”
Smith said since he was arrested in 2002, he’s known he would spend the rest of his life in prison. He said he knew what kind of a future he was choosing when he joined the Bloods gang as a young man, and he has no regrets. He expressed pride at being able to accept his punishment and his refusal to testify against any of the other gang members.
“The life I chose to live as a youngster was a high-risk lifestyle,” Smith said. “I understood it, I accepted it and I embraced it. I chose my life. I am who I always said I was, right or wrong.”
Smith was convicted by a federal jury on Feb. 7, 2007, of two counts of first-degree murder in the 1999 execution-style slayings of Paris Harbin and Chandy Bresee Plumb in Joplin.
Prosecutors maintained that Smith, 33, was the leader of a cell of Bloods gang members from Tulsa who sold crack cocaine in the Joplin area from September 1998 to December 2000.
Smith was tried under the theory that Harbin, 20, and Plumb, 25, were killed in 1999 in a Joplin apartment house over stolen drugs and money. Authorities said someone else actually had committed the theft.
During the sentencing portion of the trial in February, Smith’s defense attorneys argued Smith shouldn’t get the death penalty because keeping him alive would benefit society and life in prison was a severe enough punishment. During his statement Friday, Smith seemed to take his punishment lightly, and with a smile.
“Sometimes when you play the game, you lose, but I don’t think that I lost because I’m still alive,” Smith said. “Since 2002, the only thing I cared about was not getting the death penalty.
“So, Mr. Rush isn’t going to kill the dog,” Smith said addressing federal Prosecutor David Rush.
Smith’s comments came after four members of Paris Harbin’s family, all Joplin residents, testified one final time for the court record about the effects the murder had on them personally and their families. Paris’ cousins, Dantley Harbin and Travis Smith; his grandmother, Jessilene Harbin; and his mother, Cheryl Stephens, all spoke of how Paris went down the wrong path, but did not deserve to be murdered.
“This is something I don’t think this family will ever get over,” Jessilene said. “We see no remorse. To us, (sitting) back there, it looks like he’s smiling at us. No, this is not funny. This is something that shouldn’t happen to nobody.”
Plumb’s family was not able to attend Friday’s hearing, but each of Paris Harbin’s family members said they wanted to see some kind of remorse from Smith for the murder for closure. Following Smith’s statement, angry murmurs came from the victim’s family and after the trial, Paris Harbin’s mother spoke out.
“He’s a very sick person,” Stephens said of Smith. “I know you’re not supposed to hate people, but I hate him. He should not live.”
During his statement Friday, Smith also addressed the Joplin Police Department, represented by Sgt. Michael Hobson who worked on the case. Smith accused the JPD of manufacturing evidence against him to get a conviction. Hobson laughed in response, saying he takes the final jab as a compliment to the police force that helped put him behind bars.
“He has a great dislike for the Joplin Police Department, and he hates me,” Hobson said of Smith. “But hey, we caught him. He wants to claim (evidence) was manufactured, but more than 30 officers testified against him. The man wreaked havoc on the city of Joplin for years.”
Smith also offered a jab to prosecutor Rush in his statement, a remark the Judge Fenner could not ignore.
“Mr. Rush is one of the most honorable people I’ve had the honor to work with,” Fenner said. “It’s absolutely disgusting and characteristic of the attitude you (Smith) have toward everything. I don’t put a lot of credence in that and it doesn’t surprise me, because you’ve hardly ever done a right thing in your life, and by your own admission, you knew what you were doing when you did it.”
Fenner sentenced Smith to three life terms in prison without parole, plus an additional 30 years without parole for the double-homicide and drug-trafficking charges.
Defense attorney Susan Hunt said she talked with Smith about appealing the sentence, but as of Friday, said he had no intention of doing so. Hunt did ask Fenner to recommend Smith be sent to a federal prison in the Midwest so his son, Sam Fullbright, of Tulsa, Okla., could visit him. Fenner said he would not make the recommendation.
Despite Smith’s comments to the court and Paris Harbin’s family, Hobson with the JPD said he did agree with one part of the rant.
“I’ll leave you with this, I agree that he is what he is,” he said. “He’s a murderer.”
Others in drug case
In a statement, federal authorities noted that Smith was the final co-defendant to be sentenced on charges contained in a May 2, 2002, indictment.
All of the others were prosecuted and are serving federal sentences for involvement in the Joplin crack-cocaine case. They are Larry D. Saddler, 48, of Carterville; Justin L. Triplett, 32, of Joplin; Ernesto V. Bell, 31; Victoria Gonzalez, 30, of Carthage; Brian L. McDaniel, 31; and Israel D. Ward, 34, Tulsa.
By Melissa Dunson