A former U.S. Army Ranger convicted in the death of his roommate in 2006 will spend less time in prison than originally sentenced.
Last week in Montgomery County Court, a three-judge panel reduced the sentence for Gary James Smith, 31, of Olney, by 13 years, agreeing with defense attorneys that the sentence was excessive.
Smith was first tried and convicted of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in a crime of violence in 2008, for the 2006 slaying of his roommate, Michael McQueen, who was 22 at the time of his death.
In Smith’s original charging documents, police said Smith had called them shortly before 1 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2006, and told them he had found McQueen bleeding in the Gaithersburg apartment they shared on Summit Avenue.
According to the documents, Smith told investigators different stories about what had happened, but told them he had panicked and thrown the gun in a nearby lake.
He has maintained his innocence ever since
Smith was first sentenced to 35 years in prison. The second-degree murder charge carried a 30-year sentence, and Smith received an additional five years for the firearms charge.
However, Smith was granted a new trial for the crime three years later, after Smith’s lawyers appealed the case, citing Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson’s refusal to allow testimony from a Georgia police officer that would have suggested that McQueen was suicidal.
Smith was retried in June 2012, and given a 28-year prison sentence. The charges against him had been dropped to involuntary manslaughter and a firearms charge.
In that trial, Johnson sentenced him to 30 years in prison — 10 years on the involuntary manslaughter charge, and 20 years on the firearms charge, suspending two years out of the 20.
That led Smith’s lawyers to seek a review of the sentence by a three-judge panel. Andrew Jezic said he and Smith’s other lawyers argued that since Smith had only received five years for the firearm charge in his first sentence, a sentence of 18 years of active prison time for a firearm charge tied to a lesser crime was excessive.
The sentence review prompted criticism from Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who said the ruling was part of a bigger problem of Maryland criminal law that robs crime victims and their families of a sense of finality or closure.
“Why did we have to put this family, which has been through this for seven years, through this again?” he said. Smith has an upcoming appeal, and soon, the possibility of a parole hearing, he said.
“When does it end for these families?” he said.
“We need to allow victims to know that the process at some time is over, that a sentence is a sentence and will be respected,” he said.
Barry Helfand, one of the lawyers who represented Smith in the sentence review, said Smith was grateful for the chance to eventually get out of prison, but that McQueen’s family still was suffering from his death.
“Nobody won this case,” Helfand said.