Fact check: Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 65 years in prison for murder, burglary and theft after his friend was killed by police officer during break-in

Correction July 6, 2020: an earlier version of this check concluded it was true that Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 65 years in prison after his friend was killed by a police officer. However, this conclusion did not take into account the different elements of Smith’s sentence. These details have now been added and the headline and verdict of the check changed to reflect this.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Correction July 9, 2020: paragraph five reworded to state that gunfire was exchanged at the scene of the break-in and A’Donte was later shot. Verdict removed.

An image circulating on social media makes the claim that a teenager named Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 65 years in prison for the death of his friend, shot and killed by a police officer in Alabama. The post was flagged as potentially false as part of Facebook’s efforts to curb misinformation. While 65 years was indeed the sentence initially handed to Smith, it was for a combination of murder, burglary and theft convictions.

Examples of the claim are visible here and here .

In a two-day trial in March 2018, Smith was convicted of felony murder, burglary and theft for his involvement in  the 2015 break-ins of two homes in Millbrook, north of Montgomery, Alabama ( here ).

Smith was handed three back to back sentences: “30 years for murder, 15 years for burglary and 10 years each for two theft convictions,” as reported by USA Today here .

During one of the break-ins, police officers responded at the scene, and exchanged gunfire. A’Donte Washington, 16, was subsequently shot and killed by an officer.

Under Alabama's accomplice liability law ( here ), Smith and the other three men participating in the break-ins were found criminally liable for the death of Washington. News reports on this case and Alabama’s controversial law are visible here and here . The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote about the case here .

USA Today reported that an Elmore County judge had cleared the unnamed officer who shot and killed Washington ( here ).

During the trial Smith's lawyer Jennifer Holton said, "The officer shot A’Donte, not Lakeith Smith. Lakeith was a 15-year-old child, scared to death. He did not participate in the act that caused the death of A'Donte. He never shot anybody.” ( here ).

In 2019, Smith’s sentence was reduced from 65 to 55 years, following a court decision which determined that two of Smith’s sentences for theft could not be run consecutively with a third burglary conviction ( here ).

In light of a recent wave of national protests after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck, Smith’s case has gained renewed interest. A petition calling to free Smith has gained over 733,000 signatures ( here , here ).

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here