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 Website: http://www.gateway-va.com/ Author: Tom Campbell, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer 'KEMBA'S NIGHTMARE' NOT OVER YET 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 cocaine. 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.