An Atlantic City man acquitted of murder in December was sentenced to 35 years in prison Friday, for gun and witness-tampering convictions in the case.
Rodney Smiley’s “criminality has been escalating dangerously and sharply,” Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury said at sentencing. “There is no doubt he will offend again.”
But his defense attorney believes the conviction will be successfully appealed.
Smiley was charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons offenses in the 2012 killing of Jose Ortiz.
The 59-year-old victim was biking from his mother’s home in Stanley Holmes Village on Sept. 6, 2012, when Smiley and others were involved in a gun battle. Ortiz was struck as he crossed between the two sides.
A jury found Smiley not guilty of murder, but couldn’t decide on lesser charges. The lesser charge of aggravated manslaughter charge is still pending. The charge of conspiracy was dropped Friday to proceed with sentencing.
But DeLury allowed for an extended sentence on the convictions of two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon and one count of tampering in the case due to Smiley’s extensive record, including a previous prison term on weapons offenses.
Smiley has long been involved in street gang violence, Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey told the judge.
On the day Ortiz died, Smiley and others drove to Stanley Holmes Village and shot at a rival who lived or was visiting there, DeLury said in reading the allegations.
Smiley’s DNA was found on a .32-caliber revolver found during the investigation.
“Mr. Smiley has been racking up offenses for most of his life,” DeLury said.
The judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison on the weapons possession and 18 years on the witness tampering to be served consecutively. He was convicted of threatening his then-girlfriend not to cooperate with police after the shooting, “violently enforcing the ‘no snitch’ mentality,” DeLury said.
He must serve at least half of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
“We’re not happy with the sentence,” defense attorney Ed Crisonino told BreakingAC outside the courtroom.
He will be appealing both the sentence and the conviction.
Crisonino previously told BreakingAC that he would be fighting the conviction after the trial judge became the county’s prosecutor.
Damon Tyner was the judge at the trial in December. Three months later, he became prosecutor.
Crisonino questioned the timing, and whether the judge had been playing to his potential appointment.
McKelvey told the judge that Tyner had no involvement in the case as prosecutor, and that it was being handled under First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill, who has been put in charge of overseeing any cases that involved then-Judge Tyner.