Inmate loses appeal after cell block attack

A Madison County prisoner convicted for his role in the battery of another inmate over “street beef” and for attempting to keep the man from testifying could not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday that his two-decade-long sentence should be revised.

In Terrance Leroy Smoots, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-2101, inmate Terrance Smoot and two other inmates jumped an incoming transfer upon his arrival at the Madison County Jail. The men entered Robert Simmons’ cell block while he was inside and closed the door for several minutes. When they reappeared, two of the men dragged Simmons, who had been beaten up, and kicked him down a flight of concrete steps, leaving him unconscious at the bottom.

Smoots was written up for suspicious behavior in the cell block before and after the attack on Simmons. He was later charged with battery resulting in serious bodily injury, criminal confinement and being a habitual offender. Charges for obstruction of justice, attempted obstruction of justice and invasion of privacy were added later.

Although the invasion of privacy charge was dismissed, Smoots was found guilty in Madison Circuit Court of all other charges and was sentenced to an aggregate 24 years in prison. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Smoots’ sentence, finding that it wasn’t inappropriate based on the nature of the offense and Smoots’ character.

The appellate court also concluded the state proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Smoots’ conduct was designed to prevent Simmons from testifying against him and that Smoot forfeited his right to confront Simmons at trial in light of that wrongdoing. Additionally, the court found Smoots’ Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated by the admission of Simmons’ statements at trial.

“Although Smoots points out that the recorded jail conversations do not contain explicit statements of Smoots’s intent that the others should threaten or otherwise dissuade Simmons from testifying, the circumstances strongly support the inference that Smoots acted with the intent to do so, as evidence of intent may be determined from a defendant’s conduct and the natural consequences thereof,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the panel, citing Birari v. State, 968 N.E.2d 827, 835 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), trans. denied. “In other words, the record supports the inference that Smoots engaged in conduct — directing (his brother) Red and (Tiffany) Arnold to threaten Simmons — that was designed to procure Simmons’s absence from the trial and to prevent him from testifying against him.”

Next, the COA found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in declining to identify hardship on Smoots’ family as a significant mitigating circumstance in considering his sentence. It also rejected his argument that the trial court abused its discretion in considering the same aggravating evidence in imposing the sentence on the habitual offender count that was identified to support the sentence in the underlying felony.

“In short, Smoots’s argument that his sentence was inappropriate when considering the nature of the offenses avails him of nothing, as we are unpersuaded that the brutal and unprovoked offenses warrant revision of his sentence,” Altice wrote.

“… In sum, based on the nature of the offense and Smoots’s character, the twenty-four-year aggregate sentence that the trial court imposed is not inappropriate.Thus, we decline to revise Smoots’s sentence.”

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