The long, convoluted, at times controversial case of L’Darius Smith ended Friday with his sentencing to a year in jail for aggravated assault, burglary, theft, battery and the improper exhibition of a weapon in a pair of incidents that go back to early 2020 in Palm Coast. One of the two cases touched on claims of racial prejudice and involved a stand your ground hearing that Smith lost.
All told, it was a relatively light sentence for the 25-year-old by Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, especially after the judge’s unusually incensed description of the February 2020 incident at McDonald’s, involving two older men, when Smith confronted them with a baseball bat after he’d felt slighted by nothing more than their gestures and looks, which he may have been misinterpreting anyway. (Smith points out in a letter to the judge that his uncle, Larry Jones, ran for Flagler County Sheriff twice.)
The interaction had started when one of the men complimented Smith about his Batman jacket. Smith took it as a taunt. Things deteriorated from there, with both sides cocking defensiveness with dander.
One of the older men had been “heading out to his truck when he was confronted by somebody swinging a bat at his head,” Perkins said, describing the incident as he saw it in a video. “That’s horrible. I mean, are you not allowed to leave McDonald’s? You’re held captive in McDonald’s? You can’t walk out to your car without getting threatened?”
Perkins sentenced Smith to 364 days in the county jail, one day less than what would have triggered a prison stay, though the prosecution had asked for two years in prison. He gets credit for 98 days he’s already been at the jail, so he’ll be out by June. He was also sentenced to four years of probation and will be required to complete a mental health examination and anger management, and stay on his medication.
This is the same L’Darius Smith who just four years ago went through a trial and was acquitted on charges of molesting his sisters. There is a sense that Smith’s latest encounter with the law won’t be his last, and not only because of a Sysyphean-sized chip on his shoulder that the jury could see at his trial in June, that was visible in the surveillance that captured his demeanor in the McDonald’s incident–a video that proved to seal his conviction, even though the “aggravated” part was in dispute–and that has him still battling another court case in Fulton County, Ga.
That Georgia court came was the surprise of the Friday sentencing, and it was the latest evidence to undermine Smith’s claims of innocence and rehabilitation. He’d been telling and writing the judge and the prosecution that the only reason he got into a confrontation with Charles and Anthony Ghiurelli at McDonald’s was because he had an undiagnosed hyperthyroid condition, because he had untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from having been abused by his father when he was young, and that he was not getting medication. But also include delusions: “I have a provisional patten [sic.] on an all natural hemp based weight loss supplement that could potentially be worth millions!” (He also calls selling drugs “domestic terrorism.”)
But months after the McDonald’s confrontation and facing those charges, and two months after the birth of his daughter, Smith got into a violent confrontation with Raven Navarro, the mother of his child–and the pregnant woman he was allegedly protecting when he got into the confrontation at McDonald’s. He’d grabbed her throat and choked her. She told police there’d been been five prior incidents when Smith had been violent with her. His brother was there, witnessing the incident and calling police. Navarro’s son and her 2-month-old child were in the room. Smith was in jail five months after that incident. He was released in March.
“You can’t say that he started getting treatment after this incident, which was January of 2020,” Assistant State Attorney Tara Libby told the judge, “and then two months after your daughter is born, you attack the mother of that child. He did five months in jail up in Georgia. So that was from October to March. And then we had our trial in June.” Libby asked for “at least two years of prison,” followed by three years of probation.
Navarro testified on Smith’s behalf, saying she hit him just as he hit her. “I want to help him. But I don’t believe he should be locked up,” she told the judge, speaking on zoom from the same house in Georgia where the altercation had taken place with Smith, and with his daughter in her lap. It was one of the more poignant moments of the sentencing as Smith, standing in a room at the county jail and looking through his own video link, strained to have a look at his daughter, who alternately cooed and cried.
“Mistakes are made,” Navarro continued. “I made mistakes. He’s a good dude. He’s a really good guy, he’s a good worker. He takes care of his kids. He’s trying to get up on his feet, you know, and I just don’t want to see him behind bars. He’s got a one-year-old baby. He’s only seen her like maybe a couple of months out of her life. “
Smith himself said he was “glad that she charged me with this because it was an eye opener. You know what I’m saying? Like, if I wouldn’t have got charged, I don’t think I would have taken it as serious. But now that I know that I have a mental health condition that can’t be helped in here, I don’t ever want to come back to this situation. It was just an experience that I feel like I needed in order to realize the reality and the gravity of everything.”
But there was no explanation for his attack on his child’s mother.
And there was another case on the judge’s docket in the same sentencing. On January 26, 2020, days before the McDonald’s confrontation, Smith broke into a car left unlocked in a Publix parking lot, took a pool cue, and told a passerby who knew the car’s owner and was concerned about what he was seeing that he, Smith, knew the owner and was just borrowing the $325 pool cue. Smith then got into his own vehicle and drove off. He would later tell a deputy that he’d stolen the pool cue for “survival,” as he thought he could make money playing pool. He was charged with burglary and petit theft.
Charles Ghirelli, one of the two victims in the McDonald’s case, was buying none of Smith’s explanations. “From what I gather, he is not a real nice person. And I think the only reason he’s sorry and so regretful and everything is because he’s in jail,” he said, also on zoom. “You know, I’m on medications, I’m on 14 different medications, including hypothyroidism. It does nothing, it has no effect on your mood or what you do. Hypothyroidism has no mental bearing at all, whatsoever. I mean, this guy, who hits a girl, a pregnant woman, a pregnant woman and the face, threatening people with baseball bats. This isn’t someone that belongs on the street, really. They need to do some serious thinking. And this rehearsed thing he did with his family, it’s just a big charade. And he’s taken up enough of my time. It’s taken way too much of my time, and I think enough of the court’s time, it’s time for this to just be done.”
The prosecutor asked his brother Anthony Ghirelli what he’d tell the judge. “I would like to tell him that I believe he was coached,” he said of Smith’s testimony. “I don’t believe those words came from him at all. And I think that he’s a thief, a liar and I think he’s extremely violent. And I think he’s trying to play this system with his medical condition. This was not a prejudice thing. They took him off in cuffs and he turned around and I overheard him say, ‘why are they always doing this to our people?’ I mean, if that’s not prejudiced, I don’t know what is. I just don’t understand this guy.”
Smith and his defense attorney, Regina Nunnally, at trial had said the Ghirelli brothers had themselves used racial epithets against him, including the N word–a form of aggravated assault in the view of some jurors and lawyers. But not in the view of the six jurors who found Smith guilty of aggravated assault, though the bat had never touched anyone.
Nunnally tried to make the point. “Yeah, he could have escalated, it could have gotten worse, but I do believe looking at the fact that it did not, suggests that there was at least some modicum of self-control on Mr. Smith’s part,” Nunnally said. “In his mind he believed he was being he was being threatened because he saw the gesture that was made by Mr. Charles Ghirelli pointing at him, which he considered threatening in his mind, it looked like a gun to him. All of these things are from his perspective. And so to suggest that he’s making this up and he’s playing the system–that’s the opinion of others.” Nunnally attributed Smith’s behavior to “a medical condition.”
Not to Perkins.
“There’s an old saying that says a picture’s worth 1,000 words,” the judge said. “I don’t know what that means about a video, but I think that means it’s worth at least more than 1,000 words, and we had a video of the exact incident. I don’t know how many times during the course of the trial, or at the stand your ground hearing or otherwise in this case I’ve seen the video. But I think I could narrate it, I’ve seen it so many times at this point in time. A few things were clear from the video. Number one, nothing about Mr. Smith’s description of events was borne out by the video. Nothing. Okay? He came out of the back of his vehicle with a baseball bat. He walked across the area between the vehicles onto the sidewalk area and approached Mr. [Anthony] Ghirelli and eventually Mr. [Charles] Ghirelli, and to suggest that they did anything to cause or contribute to that incident was not borne out by any evidence that I heard or saw. In this case, Mr. Smith was the aggressor from the start of this incident through the entire incident.”
In comparison with the video, the judge gave no credit to Smith’s testimony on the stand during his trial. It was then that Perkins got incensed about the baseball-bat confrontation.
“That being said, my job is to follow the law here,” Perkins continued, and imposed sentence, sparing Smith prison: his score sheet didn’t call for it anyway.