Former Death Row Inmate's Appeal Rejected


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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A state appellate court panel Thursday rejected an appeal filed on behalf of a former death row inmate who is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in connection with the drug-related ambush killings of two people in Lake View Terrace more than 35 years ago.

Donald Franklin Smith, now 65, was convicted of first-degree murder along with co-defendants Stanley Bryant and Leroy Wheeler for the Aug. 28, 1988, shooting deaths of Andre Louis Armstrong, 31, and James Brown, 43.

The three men were also found guilty of the shooting deaths of Brown's girlfriend, Loretha Anderson, and her 28-month-old daughter, Chemise, and the attempted murder of Anderson's infant son, who was not shot but was injured by flying glass.

As a result of a change in state law, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted a petition in 2022 to vacate Smith's conviction on the second-degree murder charges involving Anderson and her daughter and the attempted murder count, according to the 26-page ruling from a three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Smith's death sentence was vacated and he was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on the two first-degree murder counts after the prosecution opted not to retry the penalty phase, according to the ruling.

The appellate court noted that "the record demonstrates Smith is ineligible for relief as a matter of law on his first degree murder convictions."

The prosecution asserted Bryant directed the shootings of Armstrong and Brown because Armstrong was a threat to Bryant's business, and that Smith and Wheeler participated in the killings at Bryant's direction, according to a 2014 California Supreme Court ruling that had upheld the trio's convictions and death sentences before the change in state law.

Both men were shot twice.

Anderson -- who was in a car with her two young children -- was shot several times with a shotgun and a handgun, and her 28-month-old daughter was shot in the neck at close range by a handgun. Her infant son was not shot but was injured by flying glass.

"While each had different roles and different places in the (Bryant) Family hierarchy, there was ample evidence that all defendants were well aware of the nature, scope, and brutality of Family operations and willingly took part," Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the panel in the 2014 ruling.

The state's highest court found that "the strength of the evidence against each defendant was roughly equivalent" and that each of the defendants was "incriminated by his ties to the Bryant Family."

The three men had been sentenced to death in October 1995.

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