2013-08-10 / Front Page

Carjacker guilty on all counts

Smith faces lengthy jail term in federal prison

Tom Smith’s facial expression did not appear to be one of concern when police took this mugshot of him nearly a year ago. Tom Smith’s facial expression did not appear to be one of concern when police took this mugshot of him nearly a year ago. It took a jury less than three hours to return a guilty verdict against the Emporium man who briefly abducted a woman at gunpoint last summer.

Thomas E. Smith, 59, faces the possibility of life in prison following the verdict, which was returned late Wednesday afternoon after a threeday federal trial in the U.S. Middle District Court in Williamsport.

Sentencing is slated for Nov. 15.

Smith was found guilty of carjacking, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence and possessing a stolen firearm. In addition to facing a maximum of life imprisonment, he also faces a maximum fine of $750,000.

The trial ended just one day shy of the one-year anniversary of the day Smith tricked Emporium resident Kim Whiting into giving him a ride and then held her at gunpoint in her vehicle before she courageously escaped by jumping from the moving SUV.

Smith abandoned her vehicle and escaped on foot. Authorities put on a massive search for days, but came up empty.

Reports circulated that Smith was on the lam in town, being aided by friends and/or family, but authorities received no useful leads. Then, on the 26th day, Smith’s brazen ways caught up to him when he was seen walking into his sister’s bar on East Allegheny Avenue. A tipster called police who surrounded the building. Realizing the jig was up, Smith called authorities and surrendered.

Police fifinally had Smith, but still did not have the weapon he used. That piece of the puzzle was discovered the following month by an Emporium Water Company employee who found it hidden near a water shutoff on Broad Street. The .22 caliber pistol belonged to his brother in-law, Richard Lyon.

During the nearly three days of testimony, jurors heard details of what prosecutors called a plan hatched by Smith to get back at a bank.

Smith, who is being held in a federal prison in Lewistown, did not testify. The victim did.

Whiting said Smith held her at gunpoint and demanded he take her to the bank where she worked, telling her that “someone was going to pay” for their handling of a mortgage issue.

Whiting drove by the bank at fifirst, hoping she would be able to calm Smith down, but as his threats became more serious, she concluded that her life was in danger.

“My only goal was to get out of that vehicle alive,” she told jurors.

Instead of taking Smith to the bank, Whiting drove to the busiest intersection in town, Fourth and Broad, jumped from the moving vehicle and called police.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney George J. Rocktashel, who set the scene of the crime by explaining to jurors that Smith had parked along the street near Whiting’s residence, where he pretended to have car trouble. He then flflagged her down and asked for a ride into town. When Whiting obliged, he demanded she take him to the bank.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender D. Toni Byrd, argued that the government’s carjacking charge was a prosecutorial overreach. She said Smith had no intention of stealing the vehicle, since he abandoned it shortly after Whiting escaped.

Byrd also argued that there was no evidence that Smith even had a gun that day, noting that forensic examinations showed no fifinger prints. The only link, she argued, was that Whiting testifified that the gun put into evidence was the one Smith had used.

The defense called several character witnesses who described Smith as “mildmannered” and “peaceful.”

Smith’s crime was a federal offense because it involved a carjacking. Carjacking became a federal offense under the Anti Car Theft Act of 1992.

Although the maximum sentence is severe, the Justice Department noted in a press release that sentencing guidelines can be misleading:

“Under federal sentencing guidelines, the judge is also required to weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant’s educational, vocational and medical needs. The statutory maximum penalty is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specifific defendant.”

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