Pubdate: Tue,  10 Aug 1999
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 1999 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Address: P.O. Box 85333, Richmond, VA 23293-0001
Fax: (804) 775-8072 (signed LTEs on
Author: Tom Campbell, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer


Federal Judge Denies Her Appeal In Drug Case

A federal judge in Norfolk last week denied the appeal seeking a new
trial or sentence reduction for Smith, the 27-year-old former
debutante from middle-class Glen Allen who is serving a
quarter-century term in federal prison

In his Aug. 4 opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Robert G. Doumar
called her part in the drug trafficking conspiracy "direct and
extensive" and said the trial and sentencing procedures were correct.

Smith was charged along with the late Peter Michael Hall, her former
boyfriend, and others in a crack-cocaine ring based near Hampton
University, which Smith attended starting in 1989 after graduating
from Hermitage High School.

She pleaded guilty in 1994 to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine,
money laundering and lying to authorities to protect Hall. Her
sentence was 294 months or 24 1/2 years.

"Kemba's Nightmare" was the title of a May 1996 story in Emerge
magazine. Attention to the case came with harsh criticism of the
federal sentencing guidelines that resulted in such a long sentence
for a young first-time offender.

"Smith was not a leader in the drug conspiracy, but her involvement
was substantial," Doumar wrote. "In fact, Smith obtained apartments
for Peter Hall under false names, she flew to New York to drop off
money, and she drove vehicles concealed with drugs from New York to
North Carolina."

National media the past few years have covered her story -- being
drawn into the conspiracy by her relationship with Hall, domination
and abuse by him, the crimes she committed and the long hard sentence
that resulted in April 1995 after she eventually surrendered and
pleaded guilty.

Smith does not deny criminal wrongdoing but feels her punishment was
far too harsh. Her lawyers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

When reached by telephone last night by a Times-Dispatch reporter,
Kemba's father, William "Gus" Smith of Glen Allen, said it was the
first time he had heard the appeal was denied. He said he needed to
speak with his daughter's lawyers before commenting.

Kemba Smith's civil appeal claimed that her conviction should be set
aside because she was pregnant and 23, therefore incompetent to plead
guilty. It claimed the sentence was unlawful because it was excessive
and unconstitutional, being based on laws passed in the 1980s to
impose harsher sentences for dealing in crack cocaine than for powder

The appeal sought a hearing on her allegations and the right to obtain
and present evidence in court.

Smith also claimed that prosecutors promised she would be held
accountable in sentencing calculations only for distribution of five
to 15 kilograms of crack. At sentencing, the court held her
accountable for 255 kilograms.

Prosecutors deny making that promise. And Judge Doumar found that it
would have made no difference at sentencing.

The judge wrote that she made drug and cash runs to New York; made
false birth certificates for gang members; posted bond for Hall; lied
to authorities to protect Hall and the conspiracy; reported to Hall
what federal agents knew after they questioned her; provided a getaway
car for Hall when he was evading arrest for a murder; and went "on the
lam" with him after the gang was indicted.

According to the opinion, Smith met Hall in May 1990. By then he was
the principal leader of a cocaine trafficking organization.

Hall had moved from New York to the Hampton area in the late 1980s. He
recruited Hampton University students, most of them female, as drug
and money couriers to drive cars between New York and Hampton and,
later, Charlotte. By the spring of 1990, the operation had switched
from powder cocaine to crack, which is powder cocaine "cooked" into
crystal form. Authorities say the operation generated at least $4
million based on distribution of more than 200 kilograms of cocaine.

Smith, Hall and 11 others were indicted in December 1993. The charges
included drug and money-laundering violations, conspiracy, murder and
weapons violations.

"Smith fled her parents' home and became a fugitive," the opinion
says. "She followed Peter Hall to Houston, Texas, and for the next
nine months the two eluded authorities."

In late August 1994, Smith was almost six months pregnant, the opinion
says. She and Hall were "holed up in Seattle." She took a train to
Richmond, went to her parents' home and contacted federal authorities
through her lawyer.