A man accused in a deadly hit and run is found guilty Wednesday of leaving the scene, but the verdict was bittersweet for the victim's family as jurors opted for a lesser charge.
"The verdict reads as follows, State of Florida vs. Willie James Smart …"
Willie James Smart is found guilty of leaving the scene the night 24-year-old Allen Rasberry was struck and killed on St. Augustine Road. But he wasn't found guilty as charged, rather found guilty of a lesser crime, leaving the scene of an accident with injury.
"I think clearly the jury was charged with determining whether or not Mr. Smart knew or should have known of a death and the jury found that he didn't so, we're happy with the verdict,” says Smart’s attorney Adam Ruiz.
The jury reached that verdict in less than an hour, but it clearly came as a shock to Rasberry's family and to prosecutors who contend Rasberry was carried on the hood of Smart's truck for more than 90 feet.
"His defense was that he didn't know that he had hit a person and if that's his defense he obviously has some problems that he might need to take care of, hopefully he gets the help he needs,” comments Cata Truss, Rasberry’s mother.
“We were disappointed that they came back with the lesser verdict but we are pleased that they came back with a guilty verdict but we are pleased that they came back with a guilty verdict on a felony charge,” says prosecutor Jeremiah Hawkes.
Smart maintained all along he didn't realize he'd hit someone. He looked relieved as he was led away to jail now facing a maximum of five years in prison, instead of a possible 15.
Sentencing is set for July 6. Allen Rasberry's family intends to return from Chicago then to tell the court about the impact that accident has had on their lives.