Farmington woman gets 8 years for role in killing

One of the suspects charged in the killing of an Ignacio resident was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison and three years of parole after pleading guilty to charges of accessory to murder and robbery.

Shanice Smith, 20, of Farmington, was one of five people charged with first-degree murder in the April 3, 2012, killing of Joey Benavidez. Benavidez, 39, was shot and killed at his mother’s house a few miles southwest of Ignacio.

The robbery charge originated from allegations that the suspects took Benavidez’s cellphone.

The shooting has been described by 6th Judicial District Attorney Todd Risberg as a drug deal gone bad.

According to statements made by Risberg and Smith’s defense lawyer Brian Schowalter, Smith accompanied her cousin, Tommy Lee Mitchell, and friend Elijah Anglin to confront Benavidez in the Ignacio home, but she never entered. Text messages between Benavidez and Mitchell the day of the murder mention the exchange of drugs and money, according to an arrest warrant. Smith remained in a car outside the house with an AK-47 assault rifle by her side. Mitchell texted Smith that he would call her if he needed her to come inside, but that phone call never came.

Both Mitchell and Anglin are suspected of first-degree murder, and both men are awaiting trial.

Risberg pushed District Judge David Dickinson to consider sentencing Smith to close to the maximum penalty of 15 years, saying the judge should consider that Smith’s sentence would set the bar for the two defendants awaiting trial.

“She was willing to kill him,” Risberg said. “She was there with a gun.”

Benavidez had six children and one grandson who will never see him again, said Melissa Benavidez, the victim’s sister.

Schowalter argued for the minimum two-year jail sentence, saying Smith was manipulated by Mitchell. The 20-year-old has mental-health issues and was vulnerable to exploitation by others, he said.

Smith did not know how to use the gun, and the weapon did not have a clip in it, Schowalter said.

“Joey would have been dead regardless of Ms. Smith’s presence,” he said.

Smith has offered to testify against her cousin when he goes to trial.

Eight of Smith’s friends and family members spoke on her behalf at the hearing.

Smith said she had met Benavidez a few times and said he never gave her a reason to dislike him. She said she never expected her friends to murder Benavidez and assumed she would only use the gun to scare someone in the house.

In deciding on Smith’s sentence Dickinson said he considered that she has no criminal record and has cooperated with police. Yet she also had an AK-47 and knew of Mitchell’s intent, Dickinson said.

The judge said he doubted that anyone could reasonably expect that something good could happen from going along with two armed people who were planning to confront Benavidez.

Along with the sentence, Dickinson recommended that she receive a mental-health evaluation and the recommended treatments. Smith is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The other suspects, Jeremiah Mayson and Armondo Yazzie, accepted plea deals and are awaiting sentencing hearings, Deputy District Attorney Justin Fay said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com