Michael Smith left his Brookfield home on the morning of Jan. 27, 2016 to fulfill what he felt was an obligation — to testify in court against a man charged with weapons offense outside a Chicago nightclub in 2015 where Smith worked as a security guard.
Smith never got the chance to testify; the court case was continued that morning and Smith drove back home to his apartment building in the 3600 block of Forest Avenue to have lunch with his wife and 3-year-old son.
Jermaine Douglas made sure Smith would never testify against Comfort K. Robinson, the man charged with the weapons offense. Hired by Robinson and DeJuyon M. Johnican, Douglas trailed Smith to his home. As Smith pulled his car to the curb in front of his home, Douglas pulled alongside and fired at least nine bullets into Smith, killing him.
Douglas, Robinson and Johnican would all be arrested in November 2016 and charged with Smith’s murder. Last May, Robinson and Johnican pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit murder and were sentenced to eight years in prison.
In July, a jury convicted Douglas of being the gunman hired to kill Smith, finding him guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. On Oct. 25 at a hearing at the Maybrook courthouse in Maywood, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Geary Kull sentenced the 30-year-old Douglas to 65 years in prison.
In Illinois, those convicted of first-degree murder must serve 100 percent of their sentences.
Although Douglas’ attorneys argued for a sentence closer to the minimum 45 years, asking Kull to take into account Douglas’ traumatic upbringing, surrounded by violence, Kull said he took into account the jury’s recommendation for an enhanced sentence. Kull could have sentenced Douglas to life in prison.
“It’d be wonderful if I had words that’d have an impact on society that would stop the senseless gang violence and selfish violence,” Kull said before announcing the sentence. “Though I’ve done this 45 years or more, it’s never easy to come to a solution that makes everybody whole again.”
Kull specifically mentioned, prior to announcing the sentence, a statement from Smith’s wife, Juliana, read in open court by former Brookfield Police Chief James Episcopo.
“My son is serving a life sentence without his father,” Juliana Smith said in her victim impact statement. “These villains don’t deserve to breathe the same air Michael did.”
Smith’s son, now 8 years old, suffers from depression and anxiety, according to his mother, as a result of the loss of his father. The two fled from their Brookfield home the day Smith was gunned down, depending on the charity of family, friends and strangers, fearing they would be targeted, too.
Juliana Smith never attended any of the court hearings in the case and remains afraid, Episcopo told the Landmark, after seeing what happened to her husband for doing the right thing.
“We must believe and trust in the justice system,” Kull said. “Hopefully, this [sentence] can restore some of that trust. … It shouldn’t have been dangerous for [Smith] to testify [against Robinson].”
Douglas spoke briefly prior to sentencing, wishing the Smith family well but stating he wasn’t guilty.
“I send my condolences out to the victim’s family, especially his son, because I experienced that,” said Douglas, referencing the murder of his father when Douglas was 16. “I still maintain my innocence.”
Because Robinson and Johnican had each spent more than four years in jail before pleading to the lesser charge, both were paroled immediately upon sentencing in May. Douglas remains in custody and his attorney announced Douglas would appeal.
Prior to sentencing on Oct. 25, Kull denied a motion by Douglas for a new trial.