Berrien County family fights for new trial - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Berrien County family fights for new trial

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By Alicia Eakin - bio | email

September 30, 2008

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A south Georgia man was sentenced to 25 years after being caught in Dateline NBC's "to Catch a Predator" series.

37-year-old Marvin Smith of Tifton traveled to meet who he thought was a 15-year old girl.

Show producers say his Internet chats with the decoy were some of the most graphic they've ever seen.  But Smith's relatives say his trial and his sentence weren't fair.

Smith made the three hour drive from Tifton to Harris County in the summer of 2006. He thought he was meeting a 15 year-old girl he met online. Instead, he was greeted by NBC cameras and the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

The whole incident played out on tape but Smith still says he's not guilty.

"He stands by his innocence and we as a family do as well," says Smith's sister, Michelle Baker.

With no prior criminal record, this minister and former military man believes he was lured in by the show. Without the pressure, it was a trip his family says he wouldn't have made.

"It was part of them as well with the phone calls, pressuring him and coercing him to come," Baker adds.

He pled not guilty but a judge and jury disagreed. His family believes he didn't get a fair trail.

"Where they moved the trial to, the demographics was about 2 to 3% African American in the North Georgia County where he was tried. Smith is African American.  There was only one black person in the jury pool and none in the actual jury," says the Smith family attorney, Lennie Darden.

Because of that, they believe his sentence was too harsh.

"Marvin was given more years then anybody else was given in the to catch a predator series after the conviction. There is simply no reason why," Darden says.

"You have people that are repeat offenders, who go out and do crimes, murder people, what have you and do not receive that type of sentencing," Baker adds.

In Harris County, law enforcers believe the sentence fits the crime.

"The act he committed on the chat logs to the decoy were horrendous. They were not just vulgar but lewd and lascivious in themselves," says Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley.

Smith was convicted of attempting to entice a child for indecent purposes and attempted child molestation.

His attorney has now asked for a new trial, a reduction in the sentence and to have the charges dropped.

The Smiths say they'll keep fighting until they believe justice is served and will hold a justice rally at the Best Western in Valdosta this Saturday at 1:00 PM.

 

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