Jailed for life as teen, Chesco man re-sentenced to life term

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Samuel E. Smith pleaded guilty in 1996 to avoid the death penalty.

A Chester County man sentenced to life in prison 20 years ago as a juvenile for killing his neighbor, a retired teacher and Episcopal priest, in order to steal his car was again given a life term at a re-sentencing hearing Wednesday.

Samuel Edward Smith, 37, is one of about 500 Pennsylvania inmates convicted of murders as adolescents and sent to prison for life without parole who were entitled to new sentencing hearings because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January involving mandatory life terms imposed on juveniles.

"This is an important case for this individual defendant . . . the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and indeed, to some extent, for national jurisprudence," said Chester County Judge James P. MacElree.

He dismissed Smith's arguments that he should have an opportunity for release because he committed the crime as an adolescent, while his brain was still developing, and that he is striving to be a better person.

"You deserve every minute of this sentence," MacElree said, calling the murder "brutal and cold-blooded."

Smith, who has been found to have anti-social personality disorder, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges in October 1996 to avoid the death penalty.

Before MacElree handed down his sentence, Smith apologized to the victim's family and his own family. He said he knew the victim would have helped him "in a second."

"I didn't ask. I took. And what I took can never be given back," Smith said.

Tom Hogan, Chester County district attorney and the case's prosecutor, said murdering someone considered a friend "takes a depraved heart, a depraved mind."

In recommending that Smith stay in prison for the rest of his life, Hogan cited Smith's position as a leader of a neo-Nazi prison gang; his persuading an older woman, with whom he communicated while in prison, to give him $10,000; and his plan to escape, which included his intent to acquire gun because, he said, he did not want to be taken alive.

Public defender Nathan Schenker said Smith had accepted responsibility for the "brutal" murder but was not a violent person. He said it was not surprising that a juvenile would gravitate toward a gang in prison.

"This is a case where context is critical," Schenker said, calling the crime "an immature and impetuous act."

When Smith was 16, he went to the house of his Coatesville neighbor, the Rev. David Kenny, 64, whom he considered a friend.

The neighbor knew Smith as one of the children he paid to shovel snow from his driveway and let him in. Kenny had a prosthetic leg and was on oxygen.

Smith confessed to hiding a wrench up his sleeve and hitting Kenny with it more than 20 times, breaking his skull. He sliced Kenny's throat with a knife, cut his phone line, and took $12 and the keys to his 1986 Chrysler Fifth Avenue sedan.

Kenny died after two weeks on life support.

Smith, who said his stepfather had beaten him and locked him in his room, told police in 1996 that he had wanted to drive to Florida to "start over."

He was on his way there with his sister when they got into a car accident in Delaware. A police officer saw blood on his shoe. Police arrested him and found Kenny in his home.

Smith is being held at the State Correctional Institution at Greene, a maximum-security prison.

Smith's attorney said the defense would file a motion asking MacElree to modify the sentence.

mbond@philly.com 610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond