- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

BALTIMORE— A jury convicted a former correctional officer yesterday of killing an inmate in a Baltimore jail last year and acquitted a second former correctional officer of all charges in the crime that highlighted problems at the troubled state-run facility.

Dameon Christopher Woods, 34, was convicted on a charge known as depraved-heart second-degree murder, which is distinguished from second-degree murder in that it is not intentional and requires an extreme disregard for human life. Woods also was convicted on charges of first- and second-degree assault in the beating and stomping death of Raymond Smoot, 51.

Woods was acquitted of a separate second-degree murder charge and charges of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Judge John M. Glynn set a sentencing date for Dec. 12. Woods faces up to 30 years in prison on the murder charge.

James Leonard Hatcher, 45, was acquitted of all charges. Earlier this week, Circuit Judge John M. Glynn dismissed a murder charge against former corrections officer Nathan D. Colbert.

Kenya Kelly, Smoot’s oldest daughter, said she was shocked and disappointed that only one person was convicted. However, she said she took some solace in seeing at least one person taken away in handcuffs. She faulted a sloppy investigation in the initial hours after the attack and said she thought more than the three who were charged participated in the beating.

“It’s kind of hard to take what happened today because justice wasn’t served to the fullest extent,” Miss Kelly said.

Mark Cohen, a prosecutor in the case, said after the verdict that he thought prosecutors pursued the matter as far as possible.

Woods sobbed and put his head down on the table in front of him in the courtroom as the charges were read. Tears welled in Mr. Hatcher’s eyes.

Smoot was savagely beaten and stomped in his cell at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center in May 2005 after getting into an altercation with correctional officers who had trouble getting him back into his cell. The altercation grew into a melee involving several other correctional officers.

Eight correctional officers of various ranks were fired less than a month after the incident. One was a lieutenant, the most senior officer in the tier where Smoot was beaten. Six were correctional officers of two ranks, and another was a probationary employee.

Miss Kelly said she thought others also played a role in the killing, and her family has filed a civil lawsuit against the state.

The incident prompted the FBI to open a civil rights investigation focusing on the facility.

The jury deliberated for nearly four days in a case that included inconsistent statements by correctional officers. Defense attorneys argued that their clients were scapegoats of a conspiracy hatched by the correctional officers who were truly responsible and held a meeting to discuss who should take the fall. Prosecutors struggled to explain the lack of forensic evidence and the delay in other correctional officers coming forward to give their accounts.

Central Booking has a long and troubled history. For months before Smoot was killed, inmates failed to get court hearings within 24 hours of their arrest, as required by law. That prompted a judge to issue a court order in April to release them if they didn’t get a hearing in the required time.

A lawsuit was dropped last month by the public defender’s office because conditions had improved.

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