CROWN POINT — Within 36 hours in December 2016, a Gary man shot and wounded a childhood friend and killed another man during a drug deal gone bad.
Garrett D. Smith, 21, was sentenced Wednesday to five more years in prison for killing 19-year-old James Clark the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2016, in the 4200 block of Kentucky Street.
Smith already is serving a 10-year sentence for shooting a man Dec. 1, 2016, in the 1100 block of Jennings Street in Gary.
Smith was charged in December 2016 with murder, aggravated battery, battery inflicting serious bodily injury, battery with a deadly weapon, and criminal recklessness.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez separated the murder charge from Smith's other charges before he went to trial in March. He was convicted of aggravated battery, battery resulting in serious bodily injury, battery and criminal recklessness.
Smith was slated to go to trial on the murder charge Nov. 18, but he pleaded guilty Nov. 15 to a reduced charge of level 5 felony involuntary manslaughter.
Clark's mother, Reshma Winfield, said she last saw her son for Thanksgiving three years ago and his homicide changed her life forever.
Clark was Winfield's first-born, and she knew he loved her because he told her so, she said.
"He tortured his sister and fought with his brother, but he loved them dearly," Anderson said.
Winfield told Smith she would pray for him and that she forgave him, not for his benefit but for herself and her children. She urged him to think about how his choice — made in the heat of a moment — has changed his life.
Smith's plea agreement called for a five-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter that would run consecutive to Smith's previous 10-year sentence on the other charges, for a total of 15 years.
Defense attorney Scott King asked Vasquez to order Smith serve all or a significant portion of the five-year sentence in the Lake County Community Corrections work-release program.
King said the program would provide Smith with a way to transition back into the community after his release from prison. Smith already has enrolled in programs at the Indiana Department of Correction, he said.
"He is a young man, and he is going to be rejoining society," King said.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Keith Anderson said Smith received a substantial benefit from pleading guilty and his criminal history showed he wasn't likely to benefit from any more breaks.
We can't do it without you. Support local journalism with our BEST DEAL EVER!
Smith was admitted to gun crimes in Lake Juvenile Court, was placed on probation, failed and was made a ward of the state, was charged in 2016 in the two Gary shootings, was granted bond after a court hearing, and was charged in 2018 with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and carrying a handgun without a license, Anderson said.
"Giving Mr. Smith Community Corrections would diminish the seriousness of the crimes," Anderson said.
Prosecutors made the plea offer because of limited evidence, including shell casings recovered from the scene of both shootings that matched and a message Clark left saying he was going to meet "Garrett" to buy a gun, he said. Several eyewitnesses identified Smith as the shooting in the Dec. 1 case.
Smith said he wanted to apologize to the court, Clark's family and his own family. He said he's still "going through stuff" related to the murder case.
"I just ask for a second chance," he said.
Vasquez said Smith wasn't sitting before him as a young man with no prior criminal history.
"Enough is enough," he said. "Your pattern of behavior demonstrates that you just don't get it. You don't get it."
Vasquez said Smith's actions during a 36-hour period changed Smith's life and resulted in Clark's death.
"And for what? Vasquez said. "Your violent tendencies."
The judge refused to order any alternative placement. With credit for good time, Smith must serve at least 75% of his sentence, records show.
After the hearing, Clark's cousin Ieesha Lawrence said the family was relieved the nearly three-year-old case was over.
"Now he can rest, and we can go on with our lives," she said.